Any changes need time
Railways all over the country have been in trouble this summer.
Even Scotrail has had to delay the entry into service of its new electric units while the windscreens have been replaced.
The managements of some companies have been trying to remove guards from the trains.
They have been saying that this is a simple issue of who opens and shuts the doors. It requires only the smallest amount of thought to realise that this is the least of the implications of such a move.
How many passengers on a busy train actually realise that in some cases there is no guard?
In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes the rail unions have ever made was to agree to ‘Driver Only Operation’ in some areas about 30 years ago.
Never mind what the staff say, it is what the passengers say when they realise the full implications of having nobody on the train to deter misbehaviour, or to take charge if there is an incident.
Passengers should be campaigning for guards to be restored on those trains currently running without them.
There is also rising discontent from passengers about the poor quality of service in some areas at the same time as the fares keep rising.
And a high proportion of people want the railways to be re-nationalised as information comes seeping out about the amount of money being paid to the managements of some of the privatised companies.
Those in favour of the present system try to persuade people that it would be enormously expensive to buy out the current franchises.
It would, of course, if that were how it was done, but nobody is suggesting that it would be.
The sensible arrangement would take a long time, but it is to simply let each franchise expire and not re-let it. The cost of doing so is nil.
The present Government will be desperate to re-let the East Coast franchise before the next election, as it was before the last one.
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However, I believe this is one of the reasons why that one went wrong.
It would be wrong to blame Stagecoach for putting in an unrealistic bid. The blame really lies with the Government for accepting it.
Those passengers who want the railways to be re-nationalised are hoping that a general election occurs before the East Coast franchise can be re-let.
There seems to be every possibility that this will happen on the basis that it is not oppositions which win elections, but rather Governments which lose them.
During both of the two world wars the Government took charge of the railways, and in both cases at the end of hostilities the railways were in very poor shape.
After the First World War Winston Churchill wanted to nationalise them and run them at a loss for the benefit of the national economy, but in the event about 120 railway companies were statutorily grouped into four.
After the initial teething troubles were overcome, this arrangement worked well until after the Second World War.
Again the effects of the war meant that this time nationalisation was more or less inevitable.
It might have seemed that this meant that the whole railway system worked as a unified whole, but that is not the case.
It was actually divided into six regions, which functioned very much as the ‘Big Four’ companies had done until the 1980s, when the operating structure was altered to what was known as ‘sectorisation’.
The key to understanding the successes and failures of the railway lies in the realisation that each change has a very long lead time before it works properly and its financial results can be judged.
Ten years is a working minimum, but politicians cannot wait that long. Due to elections, their horizons are five years at the most.