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The railways

On 16 Jul 2012 at 10:28am Clifford wrote:
If businesses have to make profits so they can invest in improvements, why is the government (that is, us) announcing that they (that is, we) are giving the railway companies nine billion pounds to invest in improvements? Shouldn't we just cut out the middleman and make them publicly owned?
On 16 Jul 2012 at 11:11am Southover Queen wrote:

On 16 Jul 2012 at 12:45pm Mr Forks wrote:
Definitely re-nationalise the railways and the utilities as well!
On 16 Jul 2012 at 1:27pm Cliffe Hanger wrote:
I thought Network Rail was publicly owned? Or at least, they are non-profit making. I think they will be getting most of the £9 billion.
On 16 Jul 2012 at 1:57pm Fat Controller wrote:
Crikey Cliffe Hanger, at last someone who knows what they are talking about.
On 16 Jul 2012 at 4:46pm jrsussex wrote:
Well said Clifford. I am a great supporter of the privatisation of most industries but I exclude public transport, we should all be able to travel at a reasonable cost whether it be for work or pleasure. since we as taxpayers are contributing bring it back under our control.
The other is water, how on earth the supply of water can be managed for profit is beyond me. The world revolves around water whether it be for us and the animal world to drink or for nature to rely on for the growing of flora. Would the ultimate punishment for non-payment of your water bill be to allow you to expire from thirst?
On 16 Jul 2012 at 5:51pm Cifford wrote:
Sussex Jim, do you consider the armed forces or the police get a 'public subsidy'? As jrsussex points out, public transport should be treated in the same way, as a public service which we all contribute to and benefit from.
On 16 Jul 2012 at 5:55pm Southover Queen wrote:
I agree, JRSussex.

The point that Sussex Jim misses is that transport systems are a fundamental part of the economic infrastructure without which a country, region or city simply cannot function. Therefore public subsidy which maintains and supports that infrastructure is vital to the economic success of the UK. Any sensible government must accept that a commuter line will never be profitable but that it is vital because otherwise the city it serves would have no qualified or capable workers. So in individual terms a line may not be profitable, but economically essential on the grand scale.

The Beeching changes were damaging because they missed this crucial point and also failed to predict the explosion in car ownership which has completely clogged up our roads. Car use in and around cities is destructive, wasteful and incredibly inefficient - witness what happened in London after the congestion charge was imposed. Most people switched to public transport and the money from those who didn't contributed to a wholesale upgrade of bus provision. Brilliant.

I'm amused that public subsidy of railways started as a socialist plot to keep the coal industry going, presumably cooked up by Arthur Scargill's predecessors. In fact, the UK has the most expensive rail system at point of use - that's the cost of a weekly season to a regular traveller - by a very considerable margin. The public subsidies are also incredibly high, compared to the rest of Europe. To most sensible people, except those blinded by ideology (or possibly just hard of thinking), it's simply mad to privatise a system where there is no realistic possibility of competition (which is supposed to be the driver of better quality, isn't it?) and where it is quite dazzlingly obvious that close integration of the whole system is essential and likely to be very economical.

That's why the rest of Europe keeps their railways in public ownership underpinned by public subsidy running integrated not-for-profit efficient public transport. It just makes sense, in the same way that not privatising water does - exactly as JR says. How can you have competition when there is only one provider? I don't have a choice: Southern Water can rip me off to the tune of thousands (and they have) and there's nothing I can do about it.
I was going to have a go at some of your other statements Sussex Jim, but I can't be bothered. Step away from the Daily Express: that's my advice.
On 16 Jul 2012 at 6:00pm Observer wrote:
Oh Southover Queen - that's so well put. Thankyou.
On 16 Jul 2012 at 8:31pm Boris wrote:
I love the fact that you think the railways would be cheaper and better if they were put back into the hands of the public sector.
Southover Queen, your Guardianesq post appears to have holes in it.
You write that in this country there are higher public subsidies compared to the rest of Europe. You then go on to say that the rest of Europe keeps it's railways in public ownership underpinned by public subsidy. That makes no sense at all.
You also say that there is no realistic possibility of competition in this sector. This shows that you clearly have very little understanding of how the privatisation of the railways works.
Nothing wrong with what Sussex Jim posted.
On 16 Jul 2012 at 9:00pm Southover Queen wrote:
Whereas you trace your information back to the Sun and the Daily Mail, Boris?

The evidence from Europe, where the railways are indeed still in public ownership is that yes, they are cheaper and more efficient.

I'm sorry, and perhaps I'm being thick, but what makes no sense in the assertion that (a) European railways are in public ownership and (b) receive public subsidy? Please do explain.

Also, please explain how competition works? If I want to go to London from Lewes I have no choice except to travel on Southern: where is the competition? Obviously I'm being spectacularly thick here. What about the water company? Please explain why my view that both have an effective monopoly is wrong.

Exactly like Sussex Jim, you make a lot of assertions which you make no attempt to back up. Nothing wrong with what he says? Oh yes there is. I won't bother to say what, since that's not a courtesy you extend to me. Let's just say that until one of you actually quotes some facts as opposed to received prejudice I won't bother on my part.
On 16 Jul 2012 at 9:45pm Annette Curtin-Twitcher wrote:
Subsidising railways so that they are a viable alternative to the car benefits everyone, not just rail users. The rest of us would benefit from less congestion on the roads and less pollution if more journeys were done by rail.
I'd love to travel by train more often, but for most of the journeys I do it would take longer and cost more.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 4:23am Expat two wrote:
Network Rail is a not for profit company that was formed to take over from the listed company, Railtrack, after its profit driven failure to re-invest in track maintenance scandalously killed four people and injured many many more in the Hatfield disaster.
The stuff that business can't be trusted with, is effectively publicly owned. But, as this 9 billion input proves, taxpayers are infrastructure those profiting rail companies rely on.. Proof, on a grand scale, of the limitations of capitalism. Now, can we get back to the criminality and incompetence that is the UK banking industry, and why does Boris so ferociously defend them. (Johnson that is, not the poster who keeps bring his farts to sh1t-fights)
On 17 Jul 2012 at 4:30am Expat two wrote:
Bit of a cut 'n' paste screw up there I'm afraid. Should read;
But, as this 9 billion input proves, taxpayers are funding the infrastructure those profiting rail companies rely on.
And kudos to you Webbo for your so politely asking me to curb my language.
Can I, also politely, request you install a UK English auto-spell-check rather than US English.
(Is there such an animal?)
On 17 Jul 2012 at 9:36am Fat Controller wrote:
If only some of the posters on this thread knew what they were talking about. Stick to your day jobs.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 10:08am Southover Queen wrote:
Please enlighten us, Fat Controller. Please tell us why privatising the railways is such a good thing, why European railways are much cheaper for the user yet require considerably less subsidy, and why we should continue pouring vast sums into profits for individuals. I'd love someone to explain this to me.

So far the nay-sayers have merely asserted that I'm wrong and you're right. You never seem to want to back this up with anything resembling a fact or even a wonky Daily Mail type opinion.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 11:21am someone else wrote:
Wonder how many posters on here know that Arriva, London Overground, Cross Country and Chiltern Railways are all owned by Deutsche Bahn? Heartwarming, I think, to know that our high fares and lack of investment all go to subsidise the German rail passenger.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 11:38am Southover Queen wrote:
That's it, Someone Else: facts! Facts, facts, facts, not unsupported assertions. Odd how the facts so far seem to support the notion that privatising the railways was an ideologically driven disaster.

Over to you, Boris, Sussex Jim and Fat Controller. Facts please; a little coherent argument would be nice too (although I know it must give you a headache).
On 17 Jul 2012 at 12:20pm Mr Forks wrote:
Is Paul Newman on holiday?!
On 17 Jul 2012 at 12:32pm Southover Queen wrote:
If he is, it's a very long one Mr Forks. At least Paul makes an effort to back up his arguments with facts, even if they're dead dodgy. We really need a better standard of right wing debate on this forum at the moment.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 1:25pm Fat Controller wrote:
SQ, firstly, I don't do headaches. The railway structure in the UK is enormously comlex, however, it was when it was a nationalised body. There remains a lot of 'baggage' from nationalised days that hinder progress (entrenched trade union agreements, geographic constraints etc). Competition does exist (Brighton to London, London to Birmingham etc) plus open access where anyone can bid to run a service. Many european railways have private operators (despite your assertion that they don't).There are many hidden costs in european rail networks that are off the balance sheet hence comparison of true costs is difficult. The structure of a nationalised railway would not look much different to that which exists today (EU directives apply). It is easy to look at a nationalised railway though rose tinted spectacles, but believe me the same problems need managing regardless of whether you are in the private or public sector. I do find however, that the private sector has a greater appetite to take on the challanges.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 2:09pm Fat Controller wrote:
and I can't spell.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 3:30pm someone else wrote:
There is no competition on trains between Brighton & London. If I want to travel at peak hours the fare is the same whether Southern or FCC, so basically the only choice I have is the colour of seat upholstery.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 3:37pm Fat Controller wrote:
Try a bit harder someone else. The price varies between £21 and £24 dependent on operator in the morning peak
On 17 Jul 2012 at 3:38pm Southover Queen wrote:
Finally, some facts: thank you.

I'm not saying that the old system was flawless, but then you say that many of the problems of nationalisation remain, so what on earth was the point?

Objective non-political reports comparing the different systems show that ours is both the most expensive in terms of subsidy and the most expensive for regular travellers so something is failing seriously in the UK. I am really ashamed to see the expression of foreign visitors when they're told the price of a ticket.

The opportunities for competition are pretty rare, unless you live on the cusp of two regions or on the busiest line in the country such as the Brighton Mainline. I really don't think it's meaningful on a day to day basis. Competition at the point of awarding franchises I suppose is more meaningful, except that it's a fantastically expensive business.

My main arguments remain that a railway system needs to be closely integrated rather than further fragmented, and that comparable systems in mainland Europe operate much more efficiently and affordably than does ours. Privatisation was a political and ideological decision, not one based on how best to organise our railways - and that's a view I've heard Tories from those days admit to. That isn't to say that the system did not needed reviewing, but the lead should have been taken by what was expedient rather than politically driven.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 3:55pm Fat Controller wrote:
In my experience, privatisation has introduced innovation and challenged many working practices. Costs have been driven down and there is scope to drive them down further with efficiency savings. The might of the unions still has to be challenged, although great progress has been made. I would guess that even the Guardian reading folks on this forum would be quite shocked at some of the archaic practices that still exist. For those not familiar with the railway structure in the UK, the Infrastructure is owned by a 'not for profit' company who allow private operators to run trains. this arrangement is not disimilar to many european railways albeit their infrastructure is still owned by the state.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 6:02pm Referee wrote:
I'm an occasional Guardian reader and like their website. Fat Controller might like to remember that it was the newly franchised privately operated train companies in the 1990s that buckled and allowed inflation busting pay settlements for drivers.
Salaries have roared ahead ever since for people who simply have to turn a lever from time to time - that's when they're not putting their feet up in between stations.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 6:06pm Southover Queen wrote:
A previous resident of these parts proposed: "a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. " from Tom Paine's Common Sense
Common Sense indeed. Don't let's do something because that's the way it's been done for 20 years, let's do something because it's the right thing to do. Clearly the way our railways are run at the moment is expensive and inefficient and other countries could perhaps teach us something.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 7:51pm Boris wrote:
Southover Queen, would you care to enlighten me on where you get your facts from.
The Fat controller has totally out facted you.
My point earlier was that your theory that public subsidy was higher in the uk than in Europe was wrong. Common sence would tell you that a railway system that is publically owned would require more public subsidy than a system which is mostly privatised.
Competition. When I travel to London I get a return to Haywards Heath on Southern and then by a first capital connect travel card from there, making an £8 saving. I don't remember being able to do that on the urine smelling slam door trains.
On 17 Jul 2012 at 10:59pm Southover Queen wrote:
The McNulty report (google it), various commentaries over the years (easy enough to google) and commentators such as the one I've added in the link below. People who actually do know what they're talking about.

McNulty's report says basically that the structure of the UK system makes it impossible to manage: there are too many small companies and UK travellers pay far too much. Quote (from page 9 para 6): "Passenger fares per passenger-kilometre on average are around 30% higher in GB and although it is difficult to compare government funding streams in different countries, it seems likely that the UK taxpayer is also paying at least 30% more than taxpayers elsewhere." McNulty was jointly commissioned by the DfT and the Office of Rail Regulation and published his report in May 2011. No Guardian readers were harmed in the quoting of this report.

You see, the thing is that I'm quoting real research by real proper knowledgeable researchers who are paid to know what they're talking about.

Oh, and by the way, there's no "common sense" in the notion that public ownership and lower subsidy is mutually exclusive. If an organisation is efficiently run it will cost less than one which isn't, and need less subsidy. Simple really. Do try to see past the vast blocks of prejudice which appear to be impeding your vision.

Check it out here »
On 18 Jul 2012 at 12:14am Lopster wrote:
In the latter pre-privatisation days there was very little in the way of public subsidy
The network had been (over)trimmed by Beeching and lost some usefull "feder" routes as well as complete loss-making lines
BR Hotels turned a huge profit (ploughed back into BR)
Sealink Ferries also turned a huge profit (ploughed back into BR)
InterCity routes turned a profit (ditto)
SouthEastern commuter services turned a profit (ditto)
Thatcherite policies caused - sale of Hotels (nice ripe cherries) AND SeaLink (another eagerly anticipated sale) - Intercity routes and Commuter servces left to support the rest - its called asset stripping , the government did an absolutely fantastic job of it
Thanks Maggie
On 18 Jul 2012 at 2:33am expat two wrote:
"Common sence would tell you that a railway system that is publically owned would require more public subsidy than a system which is mostly privatised."
How? What magic happens between public to private ownership? Do private owners kindly dip into their savings to make the railways run? Is that why those foreign companies bought them up, so they get the opportunity to pay for our commutes?
Common sense would tell you that govt subsidies + fares charged - operating costs = rail companies' profits. A publicly owned not-for-profit operator would require lower tax subsidies and/or lower fares.
Fact : taxes pay for railway operator company profits, which goes offshore - there is no economic return for the UK.
On 18 Jul 2012 at 8:13am Fat Controller wrote:
SQ - belive me, I know the detail of the McNulty Report better than you may think. It is a very fair fair assessment of the state of Britains Railways. My comments in this thread are based on experience of the industry over many years, so to imply in your post above that others don't know what they are talking about is a bit disingenious. My facts are based on experience and I don't think there is anything in the McNulty report that disputes them. Your facts, if I am not mistaken, come from 'googling' the topic and you have only chosen to quote one small part of the report. Why not try a more balanced selection? As they say, 'a lttle knowledge is dangerous'. McNulty identifies numerous barriers to efficiency but at no time does he blame privatisation or suggest a return to a nationalised railway. In fact he positively rules it out. As I said previously, whether in public or private ownership, the same issues have to be managed.
On 18 Jul 2012 at 10:20am Southover Queen wrote:
@Fat Controller: My opinions come from giving considerable thought to the topic of how to organise sustainable transport: that's from googling, reading, discussing, listening. I happen to believe that the privatisation of the railways was an ill-thought through ideological decision, and I know that many voices whose political leanings were to the right did agree with that at the time and still do. McNulty actually goes to some lengths to distance himself from the political debate, saying (and I paraphrase) that we shouldn't indulge in seeking to blame anyone for the current state of the railways but think how to improve them. His summary is pretty much along the lines of "we are where we are", which is not to say that he thinks it's a good place - in fact, he clearly doesn't.

My opinions are based on facts seen through a political prism - I don't disagree with you on that - but the *facts*, as stated quite clearly by McNulty, are that our railways cost 30% at the point of use and 30% more to the taxpayer than the equivalent costs in Europe. Most of the scornful posts made by Boris have attacked these *facts*, and it was his last post to which I was replying directly.

I think everyone must have a right to an opinion but that it's much better when those opinions are based on something like facts. I respect your right to have a different opinion based on the facts, but I hope you can see that I have similar right and that I don't arrive at my opinions without some considerable thought.
On 18 Jul 2012 at 10:49am Fat Controller wrote:
SQ - my opinions are based on fact and experience. Clearly you still can't bring yourself to accept the fact that McNulty explicity rules out nationalisation as the answer. Further you haven't retracted your ill informed statement that the rest of the railways in europe are still in public ownership. More importantly however, other than continually repeating the mantra that nationalisation is best, you have failed to produce a single fact to say how that would be better than the current arrangement. Vast blocks of prejudice work both ways.
On 18 Jul 2012 at 11:28am Southover Queen wrote:
I'm not quoting McNulty in support of nationalisation, I'm adducing that report as evidence that our system in this country is rubbish. How exactly other rail systems in Europe are organised - and the vast majority are in public ownership or at least directly controlled by the state - is irrelevant when the simple fact is that our railways are vastly more expensive and less efficient than those in Europe. McNulty reiterates this over and over again.

I haven't repeated the mantra that "nationalisation is best": that is crude and inaccurate. I have repeated time and again that the system as it currently operates as set up under privatisation is an abject failure compared to Europe, if your measure is price to traveller, cost to taxpayer and efficiency. My own personal view is that renationalisation would be an option - something which McNulty rules out, I agree. Certainly some root and branch reform is needed, whether the system remains in private or public hands - not driven by ideology or prejudice but common sense, very much in the spirit of Tom Paine.

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