Leading article: Private greed and public incompetence

Related Topics

It was an American cartoonist in the 1920s who coined the phrase: "What a way to run a railroad." It is an expression which has, sadly, never gone out of fashion, as yesterday's report of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee shows. It predicts a future of fare rises, overcrowding, under-staffing and poor maintenance.

There is a structural problem at the heart of the British rail industry. Privatisation by a Conservative government in 1993 was supposed to inject competition and lower costs. But railway lines are natural monopolies. Privatised franchises have been unwilling or unable to drive down the industry's inherently high costs. The privatisation was mis-structured and has produced a system which is over-complicated, cumbersome and lacks proper independent scrutiny. Rail regulators have failed for more than a decade to get a grip on the industry's efficiency.

At present there is no incentive for the rail industry to supply extra capacity without additional public subsidy. So the privatised companies prioritise executive pay and bonuses and large dividends for shareholders. Passengers see little for the constantly increased fares. Now the Government is expected to lift the cap on fares that was put in place during privatisation, when it was agreed fares could rise only by 1 per cent more than the rate of inflation. They are expected to rise by 3 per cent over the cost of living from 2012. That could mean annual rises of £1,000-plus for many commuters. Unions say this will in effect be "ring-fencing the extortionate profits" of private rail companies. And on top of that substantial increases in overcrowding are predicted.

All of this is extraordinarily short-sighted. Rail is the greenest form of transport. Pricing people back into their cars makes no sense for a government committed to reducing carbon emissions. Franchises need to be rewritten so that, in future, operators are required to improve the system, not milk it for profits. The fare cap should not be lifted. And government policy on rail subsidy needs to be rethought from an environmental perspective.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn