Who wants the railways to be privatised?

COMMENT

The views we publish on this page on the privatisation of British Rail come from a wide section of opinion - expert and political, foreign and domestic. None of it comes from the most obvious antagonists of the Government's proposals, the Labour Party, and yet none of it offers more than the faintest support for government intentions.

Why, then, are John Major and John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, so determined to press ahead? The core of the Government's reasoning was set out in a letter from Mr MacGregor to newspaper editors when the railways Bill was published last week. Of British Rail, Mr MacGregor wrote: 'The existing culture is more about keeping the trains running than the market- oriented thrust of identifying what the customer wants and then being flexible enough to deliver it.' This market-speak of thrust and flexibility will, we are promised, deliver 'a better railway service' and 'greater value for public money' and take us grandly into 'the 21st century'.

Most people would prefer a closer and more certain destination: East Grinstead or Glasgow, say, in frequent, clean and comfortable trains that keep to time. A culture committed to keeping the trains running, backed by the kind of substantial investment enjoyed by other European countries, has been proved throughout the world to be the best method of getting there.

Train travel in this country threatens under privatisation to become a public curiosity, rather as it started. In London in 1808 (left), Richard Trevithick built a circular track surrounded by a high fence, and the curious paid to see a little engine going nowhere but round and round.

THE TORIES?

'I do not believe it is possible to privatise the railways. . . . Last year the railways lost pounds 763m, of which the London area accounted for pounds 182m. No one would want to take on a loss of that size . . . unlike roads, rail tracks go from A to B and you cannot change the routes. Further, each train is tailor-made to its track. You cannot change the nature, speed and method of traction. . . .' Lord Ridley, former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. (Evening Standard, 30 Nov 1992)

'I begin to wonder if we aren't trying to privatise some things which basically can't or shouldn't be privatised . . . whether we should be thinking about privatising coal or the railways.' Lord Young of Graffham, former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. (Jan 1993)

'Am I absolutely sure it will be a success? No, I'm not.' Lord Whitelaw, former Home Secretary. (Panorama, 14 Dec 1992)

'The Government should . . . return privatisation to the drawing board.' Daily Telegraph. (Leading article, 4 Dec 1992)

'All businesses are better run as profit-making private companies than huge state monoliths. But Mr MacGregor has made it clear that his slow train to privatisation will require ribbons of red tape. The list of quangos he proposes to create could have been drawn up by a Labour government in the 1960s . . . the Government . . . would be wise to rethink this risky undertaking.' Daily Express. (Leading article, 23 Jan 1993)

THE CUSTOMERS?

'Do you think services would improve or get worse if British Rail were privatised or would services not be affected?'

Get worse 40 per cent; improve 33 per cent; not be affected 15 per cent; don't know 11 per cent. NOP opinion poll. (October 1992)

'Leaving network benefits to the market will not work in passengers' interests, and could lead to back-door fare increases: where a passenger travels out by one operator's service on a reduced fare and wishes to return by another's, there is every prospect that the difference in fare . . . may be levied . . . it will be passengers who pay the price as operators seek to maximise profits.' Central Transport Consultative Committee, the statutory 'watchdog' representing rail users. (22 Oct 1992)

'If a licence fee is to be charged to operators on a flat-rate basis, as with road vehicles, there seems to be little point in taking the track into private ownership . . . Conversely, if the charges are to be variable . . . Railtrack will have to charge far more heavily for rural lines than for urban or main line ones . . . As long as road pricing is not generally applicable, track charges would seem to be discriminatory.' National Consumer Council. (11 Nov 1992)

'I think we have had one letter; one.' Mike Patterson, Secretary, Central Transport Consultative Committee, asked how many letters had backed BR privatisation. (Select Committee on Transport hearing, 11 Nov 1992)

THE EXPERTS?

'Our witnesses - including financiers, lawyers, leasing companies, prospective franchisees and respected transport professionals - have frequently been sympathetic to the concept of greater private-sector involvement in the provision of railway services. However, few . . . endorsed the Government's specific proposals.' Select Committee on Transport. (Interim report, 13 Jan 1993)

'Would you agree or disagree with the following contentious statement . . . that the Government could be accused of having starved the railways of investment for some years, failed to produce a long-term plan or the necessary funds to implement it and, by cutting . . . grant over a period of years, increased the number of complaints and, as a result of the increase in the number of complaints, have produced a proposal which might be considered more dogmatic than pragmatic? . . . I am a Conservative Member of Parliament, so it could not possibly be my views, I am just trying to draw you out, you understand.' Robert Adley, chairman of the Transport Committee.

'I would agree.' Bernard North, Institution of Civil Engineers.

'I would agree.' Tony Young, Institution of Civil Engineers. (Committee hearing, 11 Nov 1992)

'The economics of railways may not attract private-sector investment.' David Clark, head of privatisation unit, Barclays De Zoete Wedd. (25 Nov 1992)

'Several European railways have followed in principle British Rail's lead in internal creation of individual profit-centred businesses, and subordination to them of the production functions. Britain's Transport Minister appears to anticipate the same Continental respect for his privatisation scheme. It will be astonishing, however, if any Continental European government, let alone its railway, views this as better than a dogma-driven exercise, utterly irrelevant to national need.' Jane's World Railways. (August 1992)

'Uncertainty over privatisation is affecting rail investment, especially for companies concerned with track and signalling . . . if the industry is forced to cut capacity because of these short-term problems, any future new orders will have to go overseas.' Steer Davies and Gleave, independent transport analysts. (27 Oct 1992)

'If you take the Clapham train crash, which was caused by signals failure . . . it would be impossible . . . for the traveller to know whether to sue the train operator, Railtrack, who run the signals, or the owner of a sold-off Clapham station.' Theodore Goddard, solicitors. (22 Jan 1993)

'Government plans . . . ignore the need for investment, exacerbate the growing imbalance between road and rail funding and lack a coherent strategic plan for their integration within Britain's transport system.' Royal Institution of

Chartered Surveyors. (22 Jan 1993)

THE RAIL BOSSES?

'My view is that a railway should meet the social needs of the country as well as the economic needs. There is plenty of opportunity for the private sector to come in and assist that process, but whether the best way of doing that is by breaking up the railway I have doubts. You could mould it and bend it; but if you restructure it, the chances are that you could break it . . . it will take a long time to put it together again.' Sir Bob Reid, BR chairman. (The World This Weekend, BBC Radio 4, 20 Dec 1992)

'Logic has been abandoned a long time ago. . . . In my opinion there is no way that private operators will make money out of operating trains. . . . The Civil Service has always wanted to close lines to save money, as Beeching did in the closure programme of the 1960s. But some of the lines closed were essential feeder lines to other lines. Without them, the lines identified as profitable suddenly became underused and unprofitable. . . . Why are we doing this?' Lord Marsh, former Minister of Transport, former BR chairman. (Transport committee hearing, 9 Dec 1992)

'You cannot do business on an old railway if there are new roads and airports. You must first invest, then you can privatise. I don't see any commitment in your Government's proposal to modernising the railway network.' Anders Lundberg, Swedish State Railways. (Transport committee hearing, 9 Dec 1992)

THE INDUSTRIALISTS?

'There will be a daunting array of regulators involved in the running of the railways. Far from encouraging private-sector interest, there is a real danger that privatisation will be a blueprint for bureaucracy. We urge the Government to think hard before going ahead with this legislation.' Howard Davies, director general, CBI. (21 Oct 1992)

'There is nothing that will adjust the cost structure or improve the flexibility of rail services to make it more competitive with road transport.' Freight Transport Association. (18 Nov 1992)

'We are deeply sceptical about the proposals. . . . The Government should look at what services the railways should provide in 10, 20 or 30 years' time and then decide on what parts of the railway should be publicly or privately owned. Investors will be deterred by the clapped-out services; they will cherry-pick the lines that have seen investment.' Sir Alastair Morton, chief executive, Eurotunnel. (Transport Committee hearing, 2 Dec 1992)

THE PRIVATE OPERATORS?

'We would want control of the track bed. We don't want the track authority running it because it would then control departure time and speed, on which our competitiveness would depend.' David Benson, vice-president, Sea Containers. (Nov 1992)

'At the moment we are not in a position to say if we will proceed.' Bob Tebb, development manager of Yorkshire Rider, a company named by the Department of Transport as interested in operating private services. (Nov 1992)

'I frequently ask myself who these 50 companies (named by Department of Transport as potential private operators) are. I haven't been able to find them.' Michael Roberts, CBI policy adviser. (Nov 1992)

(Photographs omitted)

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album