The Guardian view on rail privatisation: going off the tracks | Editorial
Twenty years after rail privatisation was completed, passengers put up with late, expensive and frequently overcrowded services. The state should run a few train firms so private companies would be forced to up their game
There are few more annoying issues for the great British public than their railways. While some cities and towns have seen stations spruced up, the public suffer from often late, expensive and frequently overcrowded train services. While the cack-handed rollout of infrastructure improvements has led to cancellations and delays on the network, commuters saw ticket prices rise at twice the rate of their wages between 2010 and 2016. Tuesday’s news that rail passengers will be hit by the largest fare hikes in five years next month will do nothing but confirm the view that the public are being taken for a ride. The situation, it seems, is one where private companies reap the benefits, while passengers bear the costs.
Ministers shouldn’t allow this state of affairs to continue. The reason for their apparent inability to sort out the railways is that the Conservative party drove through the privatisation of British Rail two decades ago for largely ideological reasons. Ministers still believe that only competition and private sector fizz will make the railways profitable and customer-friendly. However, last week the transport secretary was forced to bail out a joint venture led by Stagecoach with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Their franchise on the east coast mainline between London and Scotland had pledged to pay the Treasury around £3bn to run the service until 2023. Now it will be replaced by a “public-private partnership” in 2020, despite track upgrades and new rolling stock. In exiting early, the Stagecoach-Virgin venture could end up paying the taxpayer approximately £1bn – about a third of what it promised – and around the same amount the service earned when it was operated by a public sector firm.
Source: Guardian Transport