14th November 2009
As my journey into London was delayed the other day “By Disruptive Passengers” I wondered what is to become of our railway system.
From the high hopes of privatisation we have arrived at re-nationalisations, strikes and the rush hour spectre of overcrowding.
Rail should and could be wonderful. The fastest and safest way to be whisked into the centre of London at 90mph+, and then if you choose, on to Paris, Brussels or the European TGV system. But a critically short planning horizon is inextricably linked to the current model of 10 year franchises. Now 10 years seems a lot to a government – yet in terms of such vast and expensive infrastructure it provides little time to pay back commercially or politically any brave forward looking decisions.
Rail is in fact just one piece in a complex jigsaw.
Politics, Social and employment mobility, green concerns, car-congestion charges, government income from franchise charges, vs tax on petrol vs tax on cars . . it goes on and on.
I believe that a far longer planning horizon is needed for rail infrastructure AND for train operating companies. This would allow a more open commercial approach to rolling stock, stations and new routes. In return more public accountability by rail operators would provide a potential checks and balances protection. Comparisons to the still – nationalised French railways is tricky, yet the fact that they have 4000 miles of the latest high speed track to our 68 is hard to argue away.
Will it happen . . Possibly – if we can still find someone with a 20 year planning horizon to take the decision!