I know I only blogged yesterday, but I have a further rant about Trains. I see a trend here…
So, trains. Back in the good old days, the British railway was nationalised, and called… British Rail. Then between 1994 and 1997 it was privatised and because the jumble of companies we have today, Virgin, Arriva, CrossCountry etc etc. The idea of privatisation is to allow market forces to take control. This will mean companies compete, so attempt to undercut each other on price, outdo each other in terms of customer service and so on. Great! Cheap trains, good service and options if you dislike one of the companies, who could ask for more.
But this isn’t how it happened. Various parts of the network were given to different companies for 15 year or so contracts. So in practice, Arriva run all but five of the train services in Wales which means for me to get the train anywhere, I have no choice. So the real competition isn’t on a day to day level, but when the contracts are up for renewal.
But even here there isn’t really competition. A while ago Arriva drew up plans to run a twice-daily Aberystwyth to London service. But to do this, Arriva would stop at some of the stations currently served solely by Wrexham & Shropshire. W&S appealed to the Welsh Assembly, who then banned Arriva from running the service. Why? Because the W&S line couldn’t support a couple more trains a day? Nope, because it would mean W&S would lose money and might go bankrupt. Now I thought the idea of competition is that there is some competition… It should be a form of economic Darwinism, where the weaker companies fall aside to allow the stronger companies to offer the best service. That’s not what happened here.
Another issue with privatisation is that the company only has the contract for a set period, and is out to make money for its shareholders. If you had two years of the contract left, and you might not get it next time what would you do with your money? Would you invest it in infrastructure, new trains, reducing overcrowding? Or give all the money to your shareholders? Well, Virgin have gone with the second, the BBC reporting that Virgin’s Chief Exec claims that ‘with only two years left to run of its franchise, he says he cannot justify investing in new rolling stock’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11758780). So privatisation has served all of the drawbacks, but none of the benefits have been allowed to happen.
So there we go, rant about trains over (unless the Arriva Strike on Friday goes ahead, in which case I will be very annoyed!)