When one newspaper group, and they alone, has a story on a subject where they have no specialist knowledge, and no-one who can look over the detail and tell them it should have been spiked, they the suspicion is bound to arise that the story is bunk. So it is with the Murdoch press pushing a claim that there will be competition between rail operators from next April. It’s in both the Sun and Times. And it’s totally untrue.
“Rail shake-up will let passengers choose between rival services” claims the Times, with the by-line given to “Transport Correspondent” Graeme Paton. In the Sun, that honour goes to Chloe Mayer. Both stories cover the same futile ground.
Here’s the Sun’s take: “TRAIN passengers will be able to choose which rail company they use for their journeys under a new competitive system - that could see rival firms running the same routes … Some experts say the move might end up dramatically shaking-up the industry - resembling how the explosion of budget airlines revolutionised air travel”.
So if we book some weeks ahead, we might score a cheap seat? Stuff all use to commuters, though. And who are these “experts”? Christian Wolmar? Nope. Roger Ford? Not as such. Nigel Harris? Not right now, no. So what is this story about?
“The changes are being introduced to the rail network from April, and will allow different operators to compete against each other for passengers on the same sections of line … Bosses at the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) regulator hope the new system may cut fares, increase train numbers, and encourage innovation and better quality services”.
The ultimate open access rail service
There are already sections of line where two operators compete. There have been for many years. But do go on. “Franchise operators with government contracts could end up competing directly against ‘open-access’ operators, which would have to pay a bigger share of the costs for the railway’s upkeep in return … And the Competition and Markets Authority backed the move - suggesting that allowing open-access operators on the railways would have a similar impact to the one seen in the airline industry”.
Open access operators, such as Hull Trains and Grand Central, are already out there operating trains. This story is crap. I can personally guarantee that there will be no new open access operators appearing in April. No additional competition. Let’s put one straightforward question: where are the trains going to come from? The Wales franchise hasn’t even got enough of those to meet its December commitments.
So the new service from Chester to Liverpool via Runcorn and Liverpool South Parkway, which would need all of two new train sets, cannot begin this month. There have been all manner of proposals for open access operators. And we’ve been here before: back in 2015, it was the Telegraph’s turn to pitch the same pie in the sky. “All change: Britain's railways on the verge of a shake-up … Reviews of Network Rail and a competition probe into franchises could lead to an overhaul of the railways”. They didn’t.
If the press isn’t prepared to seek the advice of actual experts - note that the Sun story does not name even one - then it is doomed to carry on publishing this guff.
Get knowledgeable, press people - or leave the field to those who are.
Enjoy your visit to Zelo Street? You can help this truly independent blog carry on talking truth to power, while retaining its sense of humour, by adding to its Just Giving page at