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Friday 2 January 2015

CPS Backs Nationalised Railway

The right-wing Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), formerly Margaret Thatcher’s favourite “think tank”, has been pushing the idea of “competition” in passenger rail services, with “research fellow” Tony Lodge being given airtime on the BBC to promote his views, which mean pointing at Open Access operators on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and saying that they are doing very wonderful things.
A Virgin Pendolino train passes Tamworth

Actual facts are thin on the ground here, but Lodge contends that the presence of Hull Trains and Grand Central means lower fares and better services. What he does not tell is that, all other things being equal, this suggests that taxpayers - mainly those who do not travel by rail - are contributing more to the upkeep of the ECML as a result. But the Lodge “competition” meme has just suffered a setback, and he’s not happy about it.

Given a platform by Conservative Home, he tells “The government quango in charge of deciding whether to allow more rail competition and choice has decided to refuse new competitive high speed services on Britain’s biggest rail network”, which will be news to all those who believed that there was only one rail network in the UK, the one managed by Network Rail (NR). So what’s the story?

These new high speed non-franchised ‘open access’ services were to have run between London Euston and the North West and Yorkshire, in direct competition with Virgin and other franchised services.  They would have become a staple benefit to the Government’s so called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ ambitions”. Ho yus. So where is the cost-benefit analysis to illustrate the “Northern Powerhouse” pay-off? There isn’t one - no surprise there.

But he is clearly concerned about too many franchises falling under control of the same operator: “Last month, the Government awarded the … East Coast Main Line franchise to Virgin Trains and Stagecoach.  Stagecoach already runs the Midland Main Line into and out of St Pancras, while trains on the UK’s biggest rail network, the West Coast Main Line, are run by a … joint venture between Virgin and Stagecoach.  The new East Coast ‘Virgin’ franchise will start in March, when the consortium’s grip on long distance high speed rail travel north of London will be complete”. And to that I call bullshit.

The Department for Transport (DfT) specifies what trains are used, what services are run, where they will stop, and even regulates many fares. Franchises are little more than management contracts. And there is something about that Open Access operator that the man from the CPS is not telling his readers.

And that is that the proposed services were to be run by a subsidiary of … a nationalised railway company! A German nationalised rail company: Great North Western Railway would have been part of Deutsche Bahn. So Tony Lodge is in favour of foreign state operators, providing he can spin it as meeting his ideological purity standard.

Try explaining that to the Daily Mail, CPS people. Then get with the real world.


Bob said...

Patrick Mcloughlin on R4 Today @ 8.40. Defended the rail companies to the hilt and threw crumbs to the passengers. His explanations about East Coast were woeful.

SteveB said...

When exactly was Alliance Rail (part of Arriva Group, "a DB Company") prevented from running? Everything they say suggests their 2016 start up will happen - assuming they can import their foreign trains from Italy by then. Most of the initial access deals were done before the ECML announcement and my info was that it was Network Rail that was obstructing developement not the ORR. This being the same Network Rail that kept blocking Virgin from Shrewsbury.

They may have a temporary point about the Stagecoach grip on London- North traffic but miss a vital point. The WCML doesn't have a franchised TOC at present, the current Virgin-Stagecoach partnership are managing it under a special short term contract and when the DfT actually gets around to sorting out the franchise it is far from certain that the current arrangement will continue.

He also misses that DB-Arriva were bidding for the ECML franchise and had they won all their free-market, open-access ideals would have been binned!

The biggest scandal, also missed, is that when Alliance started up their plan was to use a new design of train which would have been mostly built in a new British factory. Now because of NR delay and obstruction, that plan isn't viable and the different trains will be imported.

David Cotton said...

SteveB: IANAE, but aren't the new trains scheduled to be used on the ECML the Hitachi IEP, chosen by the Department of Transport, not NR, under a process started under Labour and controversially completed by this government?


Whether the IEP ends up being a wise choice is an interesting question. I have some rather grave doubts ...