I was both intrigued and surprised to learn on the BBC news that the government is wanting to allow private rail companies to compete on routes that are presently operated by rail Companies that have previously won rail franchises. I have to say this was a complete surprise to me, even more surprising is the fact that apparently this practise has already started.
I was immediately intrigued about just how this process might actually work, the news bulletin stated that the competition would be encouraged under open access regulations. To be honest I am not quite sure just what that means but this got me thinking about the logistics of just how will a private rail Company actually get new trains on the tracks, and by so doing enhance the quality of service to the rail passenger.
The Government hope that such competition will engineer lower ticket prices, improve quality and enhance timetable reliability. Worthy aspirations indeed and given the poor publicity that rail Companies have endured in 2018, however, in fairness just how much of this has been down to the operating Companies and how much has been down to other issues is a moot point. The transport Secretary Chris Grayling has been fast out of the blocks to stick the boot in, when the public have expressed concern about train Companies cancelling services, and letting people down.
However, the great irony here is the simple fact that it is often his own department that have instigated changes timetables, as witnessed with the debacle that took place in the summer. Here the DFT demanded changes that were not realistic, and failed. No one criticised the government even though they control most of the key elements of rail travel. And then for your man to come out and blame the operators is quite frankly a bit rich.
I am always interested in just how competition on the railways will work, it is not like the bus industry where quite honestly any TOm, Dick, or Harry could buy a knackered old charabang and register a service and Bob is your uncle, lo and behold, there is your competition. I can hardly see some budding entrepreneur popping down to trainsrus, and picking up a choo choo, slapping it onto a busy line, charging what he likes and the timetable of choice ie peak time services only. It cannot work that way.
Indeed quite rightly the rail industry is regulated by safety first and foremost, why? Because in the past too many people have been killed, a good example is Ladbrook Grove where a FGW train did not stop and crashed killing 38 people. That instigated automatic train stopping systems. Agreed a good thing, but not good for the families and friends of the 38 dead. So, I will watch with renewed interest as a once regular train passenger as to how and where this new model might work. Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of good competition, it is fundamentally good thing, no one would argue with that.
My only concern is that the regulator will ensure that the playing field is a fair one, and we as a nation quite rightly pride ourselves on our sense of fair play and doing the decent thing. None of your naughty ball tampering malarkey with our national transport networks. God forbid such cheeky tactics. No, I will as ever stand back and watch with great interest how it will pan out, and indeed just who will rise to the challenge. Playing train sets is not an easy nor cheap option. Indeed I was intrigued to learn that former Squeeze keyboard tinkled, Jules Holland has recently admitted to building a 100 metre model railway in his attic. Must have a big attic to be fair.