Thursday, July 09, 2009

National Express resigns as the Fat Controller

It seems everything happened whilst I was away. Michael Jackson died (we had previously tried to get tickets for the O2 concerts when they were first announced but found they were sold out). Britain had a heatwave (we were getting worried as we sailed around the North Atlantic that all our crops would be frazzled by the time we got back - fortunately they are all doing well.). Cowley St suffered a flood on floor three right next to my old desk. (I always miss the exciting stuff!)

But the big news in my absence was that National Express decided to hand back the keys to the East Coast railway line. Seems as though National Excess couldn't afford the fare. Quite when they will hand over the service is not known but it is rather ironic that just as I stop using the service as a regular traveller, they decide they want to hand over the service to people who know how to run trains.

It is doubly ironic that I should find myself writing this post on the National Express train heading to Newcastle. At least however I am heading home.

I feel sorry for the staff running the rail service. Not only do they have to put up with passengers upset by management decisions to cancel trains, they are about to have their third employer in two years.

The question now is what happens to the franchise. I have seen suggestions that the government wants to offload it as quickly as possible. There are some who want it fully nationalised. There are times when putting a company into public ownership is the right thing to do. There are other times when public ownership is inappropriate or just plain damaging. I certainly don't support public ownership simply for the sake of it. I'll leave that to the Labour dinosaurs. The railways themselves did not do well under state ownership. Remember Beeching was a government appointee with a government remit to hack down large parts of the rail network. In effect British Rail was neglected as governments were not committed to investment and making it a success. There are plenty of faults with the current private franchising operation, but outside Network Rail, the private operators are at least committed to making running trains a success (even if like National Express they make a hash of it.)

I can't imagine for a moment that a Tory government would look on a publicly-owned rail system favourably despite their protestations of support, which we all know is drivel. A rail network fully owned by the public would not fare well under the Tories.

Perhaps what we need to do is work out what the final shape and purpose of a rail system should be and then decide the ownership on the basis of how best to deliver that vision.

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Sent via BlackBerry

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