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.
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Anyone who thinks a privatised rail system is anything more than a rip off......deserves all the overpricing and overcrowding they get.
All the rest is bullshit.
Oh, does that mean the return of the LNWR heavies?
Virgin on the ridiculous
In my area there is the opportunity to ride a section of line on three different rail companies.
You buy a ticket and get on the train - there is nothing to indicate that you have to ride a particular train unless you've booked far enough ahead and either have chosen or been allocated a particular service at a particular time.
There is nothing counting how many passengers get on a particular train, no counting service on the train (if the guard, conductor or on board supervisor drags his backside through the train then it is to examine the ticket, not to check which company should be reimbursed) and, due to the fact that the gates just collect the tickets without collating details, there is no way to do this without throwing staff at it. And despite the fact that most staffed stations are grossly understaffed, with gaps plugged using cheap, untrained zero hour contract agency staff, there is yet another bout of recruitment bans in the offing to save money.
And if there was the chance that there was a service that was separated from the rest on the line, so that only those who had the appropriate ticket were able to use it...it would still be subject to the same problems all the other trains suffer from - break downs, power failures, infrastructure failures, etc.
There are a range of ticket styles available which, outside London, can only be checked by hand. E-tickets are supposed to be the next big thing but at the moment they have to be physically examines because there are few electronic scanners outside London.
Tickets bought on the net have to be printed at ticket machines, usually are only usable on specific trains (governed by the departure time) and most passengers are unaware that if they miss that train then they need to purchase another ticket (a bit like a cruise liner, I was told; you don't arrive late and expect to get on the next sailing); but if the passenger doesn't print their ticket and still manages to complete their journey then they will get that journey for free - it is the ticket they are buying, if they get a sympathetic ticket inspector and promise him that they will print their ticket at their destination but don't then the bought ticket appears to have not been used and gets refunded!
Swipe cards - Oyster in London, for example - are all over the country, but I have yet to hear of one that works in conjunction with another; an Oyster card user is open to a fine for not having a valid ticket outside of the London zones. In addition it is amusing to see Londoners repeatedly trying to swipe their credit cards outside of London then scream abuse at rail staff that they should come out of the dark ages, like the rail staff have any say in the matter!
Some companies use different styles of ticket - Great Western, for example issue a large flimsy paper ticket on some services despite there being few scanners that can use them outside of their area, which opens them up to scamming; London Underground sell a ticket with pointed corners (other companies use a ticket of the same size but with rounded corners) that snags ticket gates outside London, even though they have been asked not to use them for overground services out of London.
The railway is not the thing anybody with any sense would invest in - apparently, in the summer, there were moans from investors that they were not getting what they regarded as a good return on their investment and the companies should buck their ideas up! The entire industry has bad PR coming out of its ears (time table changes, breakdowns and ancient, run down infrastructure) and nothing short of coming back under complete government control is going to change that.
These newspaper stories are obviously the work of people who are trying to encourage the public that there is the chance that investment will take place (it won't) and the price of a ticket will drop (it also won't).
Oh good grief. Hope this hasn't gone too off track...
Not at all. You just made a very good case for re-nationalisation.
The sooner people get it through their heads that privatisation of natural fixed monopolies is a thieves charter, the sooner we might, just might, begin to restore common sense decency. But to do so means restructuring the economy and its tax system so the thieves don't rob the rest of us. Which will take years.
We've had 40 years of this corrupt privatisation racket now. All it has produced is social division, inefficiency and misery - all of it predicted right at the beginning of the scam. It seems people have had to re-learn the lesson the hard way.
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