Open Jaw: State of UK's railways
Saturday 18 July 2009
Simon Calder's investigation into the railways industry published last week (
independent.co.uk/crossedlines) has aroused plenty of comment...
I go to France and I pay a very small amount for fantastic transport on good, clean trains between Nice and Marseille, or Antibes and Monaco. It is all remarkably cheap, yet we seem to pay a fortune for the same distance covered... or do we? Last week, I travelled from Liverpool to Scarborough, a journey of three hours, for £26 return. Two weeks before that, I travelled from Liverpool to London Euston and back for £20. OK, so I booked ahead and took advantage of advance purchase, but this facility was denied to me 35 years ago.
So, as an old left-wing "private is bad, public is good" type of guy, the jury is out on how bad things are. The confusion comes from how many companies there are and whether they benefit the passenger (I still refuse to call them "customers") or their own balance sheets?
It's good to have positive stuff on the railways. I find them – most of the time – to be good, cheap if you book early, and with the best rolling stock in Europe.
When we had the LMS and the LNER, etc, as separate companies, at least they ran trains on their own tracks. Surely the great weakness of the last privatisation, which must cause continual friction, is the awful interface, wheel to track, and the inevitable complications of signalling and communicating between rolling stock and trackside.
The railways should never have been privatised. The whole reason they were nationalised in the first place was the pre-war companies were making a mess of it and now, today, they are making a mess of it once again. We were told that the Government "had" to privatise, because it would be cheaper than continuing the subsidy of the British Rail network.
But hold on, we are now pouring more money in than ever under nationalisation and public subsidy. All the promises have been broken – promises that trains would be better and on time, fares wouldn't be prohibitive. Every one of the critics at the time of privatisation have been proved right.
We need to return to the original British Rail – not the track version of British Leyland that the Labour Party brought about in the bad old years but previous to that, when it worked, when it was a service that was fairly priced, reliable, owned by the public and treated as an asset of Great Britain.
It really is time to debunk the myth that Oxford has a good train service to London. At best it's patchy, at worst it's unreliable.
There are two express coach operators that offer services from Oxford to Victoria. They both offer free Wi-Fi and 13-amp sockets and (how good is this?) guarantee us poor cattle a seat. The cost- saving of the coach alone makes this a travel win.
Simon Calder makes some valid points; a relief to have him out of his usual wearisome "Only 50p by Bloggair to Nice, etc" anorak mode, extolling the alleged virtues of cheapo air travel.
Dr John Davis
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