Wednesday, 22 August 2012
"Rant of the Week - West Coast Mainline"
Yes, "Rant of the Week" is back after a prolonged absence. So what's got Simon's goat today?
The West Coast Main line franchise decision. It's the wrong one. I say this knowing that Virgin Trains are not perfect. I personally have always had a good service on the Pendolinos, and found them comfortable and clean. Others haven't seen this the same way. Love 'em or loathe 'em, the Pendolinos have changed the WCML and helped increase its useage since their introduction.
Virgin Trains have turned the franchise into a great success over the last fifteen years, and their conservative estimates (which greatly echo everything in the argument for High Speed 2) seemed logical, sound, based on fact.
Then you read the First document and wonder which company has got it the more wrong.
What frustrates me more than anything is the possibility that if Virgin are wrong, then so is the argument for HS2. If First Group can legitimately prove that more capacity can be found on the WCML, then the argument for HS2 is flawed, surely?
Both cannot be true. One of the two stances is incorrect. You can't have a lack of capacity on the WCML, needing a brand new high speed main line and also lease out a franchise based on a supposed increase in capacity being obtainable!
The WCML franchising debate also shows up how utterly frustrating and pointless the system in place is.
No other country in the world has accepted the British model of franchising railway lines, and it's somewhat telling that the best run railways in the world are normally goverment subsidised and run by public sector workers.
The problem then is that I don't want a call for a return to British Railways/Rail. I want something better than the system we have now. A system which remembers it's supposed to provide a service for the ordinary men and women of this country. Sectorisation was the closest to a workable nationalised railway we have had since the dawn of the steam locomotive, and even that had its flaws in some respects.
The thing is, I'd love it if the railways were nationalised and looked after in a vein not dissimilar to the NHS in some ways (less managers, more workers on the shop floor would be preferable), and have a similar emphasis on the funding. I have found it difficult as a natural Conservative to stomach many of the things the Coalition have done in government, and it's not really comforting to know that the opposition would probably have done as badly.
The biggest problem is a change in thinking towards Britain's railways at a governmental level, and in HS2 and the recent mooted electrification schemes, we can finally see some movement and realization that the railways have a very important job to do in the future of our nation.
It's not enough; the whole system needs overhaul, and it needs the removal of the franchising system, including the splitting of the maintenance of the track, stations and overheads from the companies which run, and the companies which own the trains; it needs a good solid "railway head" whereby someone with a track record in the industry (a good one, not a certain executive who chops and changes at a whim) can guide our railways into a nationalised form which is beneficial for the commuters and general public at large.
In short, we don't need British Railways or British Rail back. We need something better, but anything better than this.
And at this moment in time, it is a lunacy to remove one of the most successful operations in this utterly broken system, at a time when we're supposedly trying to cut costs and make things operate more efficiently.
If it's not broke...