Leading article: What a hypocritical way to run Britain's railways

The Government is still failing to invest on the necessary scale

Related Topics

There is an air of unreality about the demands that the Rail Regulator has laid out for Network Rail over the next five years. The regulator is demanding that Network Rail improve punctuality and deliver major new infrastructure projects. The question that springs to mind on reading this ambitious list is: what will happen if Network Rail fails to deliver? The precedents are not encouraging.

Rail passengers will recall the terrible disruption last New Year, when there were major engineering overruns in Glasgow, Rugby and London. Tens of thousands of travellers were inconvenienced. Network Rail was fined a record £14m by the rail regulator. But because Network Rail is a publicly-owned company, with no private shareholders, the fine was merely picked up by taxpayers, many of whom had suffered from the disruption in the first place.

But this is merely one aspect of the madness of railway economics in Britain. More people are using the railways than at any time since 1945. The result is overcrowding on several major routes. And yet the response of the train operators has not been to put on more trains, but to increase fares. We have an industry that rewards its customers by making their travel experience more miserable and charging them extra for it.

So what is to be done? There are two major problems with Britain's railway system that need to be distinguished. The first is the incompetence of Network Rail and several of the private train operating companies. This is not a funding issue, but a management one. If money is an issue, it lies in the fact that the managers are presently rewarded for failure. Three Network Rail directors received bonuses of £200,000 this year, despite the New Year overruns debacle. The Government needs to look again at those charged with delivering our rail services. Incentive schemes which end up rewarding incompetence must be torn up.

But there is a second, larger, problem and that is the Government's stubborn refusal to invest in the rail network on the scale necessary to deliver an efficient, modern transport system. The stewards of our rail system are often incompetent, but the blame for the often appalling condition of our rail services must be shared with ministers who have been quietly allowing the public subsidy to dwindle.

Unveiling the Government's five-year rail plan last year, the then Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, rejected greater electrification of the network and more high-speed rail as "too expensive". The hypocrisy and short-sightedness of this is immense. The Government is pushing ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse emissions through the House of Commons, and yet it is squeezing rail (the greenest form of public transport) and lavishing favours on the airline industry. Ministers are demanding that individuals reduce their carbon footprint, and yet they preside over a transport system in which it is cheaper to fly between London and Glasgow than it is to take the train.

There are signs that this might be changing. The new Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, this week promised to review the case for high-speed rail lines. And the Conservatives' endorsement of a new high-speed North-South rail line confirms which way the political wind is blowing.

But the proof will be in the delivery. Passengers, long squeezed between the incompetence of railway managers and the hypocrisy of ministers, will believe in the new strategy when they see it being put into effect.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.  

The Only Way is Ethics: The birth of a royal baby will not top the news for long

Will Gore
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk