The prime minster and the deputy prime minister announced spending of £9bn on the railways on 16 July, but left their minister for transport to tell us fares are to be increased to pay for it (Passenger groups step up protests as rail users face average 6.2% fare rise, 15 August). We had already learned from Earl Attlee that council tax benefit has taken a “little cut” of 10% to pay for the railways. The chancellor is taking £18bn from social security and wants £10bn more.
I visited a food bank on Sunday and was told about a mother and her three children who called for help. They hadn’t eaten for three days; they can be given only three more days’ food. A single person’s jobseeker’s allowance had been stopped for three months. Both commuters and their poorest fellow citizens have reason to complain to the coalition that this is no way to run a railway.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• If the rail companies (infrastructure, operators and train owners) really want to invest to improve service for their customers (passengers) why don’t they borrow money from the banks, at the low rates of interest that the government keeps bragging about, and recover the money from future passengers when the improvements have actually been done? That would be a normal way of doing business.
The current method, making today’s passengers pay extra with vague promises of improvements tomorrow, has some of the attributes of a Ponzi scheme. In this case the number of passengers willing and able to pay the high fares will gradually decline, while the money said to be for improvements will be frittered away by the built-in inefficiencies of our fragmented railway system and by the bonuses that will no doubt be paid to rail company executives.
• The fundamental reason underlying the continuing rise in rail fares is that all recent governments have been stuck with the 50s attitude that the railways are an industry without a future, with the only option being to manage their decay at minimum cost to the government.
It is time for the government to recognise that currently increasing passenger numbers point the way to a genuine future for the railways as an essential part of national infrastructure with both economic and environmental benefits. The government should seek policies that will aim for a breakthrough to a low-fares, high-usage regime where the cost to the taxpayer is reduced by encouraging use rather than attempting to palliate the cost of low use by charging high fares.
• The blueprint of rail privatisation “New Opportunities for Rail” (1992) asserted that “private-sector involvement will mean greater efficiency and a wider choice of services more closely tailored to what the customers want”. It is true that long-distance services have improved but that has little to do with privatisation and much more to do with the removal of lumbering freight trains, making capacity for more and faster express services – that would have happened in any case.
This accounts for some of the considerable surge in passenger numbers – the rest comes from increases in white-collar commuting due to the old dispersed heavy industry being replaced by service industries packed into urban centres. Privatisation can take no credit for that either. Despite billions more passenger miles, the subsidy has shot through the roof – it is now four times what it was in the last years of British Rail and Network Rail’s debt is over seven times that under BR. The much-vaunted competition has not materialised except in the struggle to win franchises – Virgin has just lost out in a ritual battle for the West Coast franchise that cost the combatants millions – why, one might ask, should there be such expensive strivings?
Most of the franchises are now in the hands of the monopolistic bus companies or with the state railways of foreign countries. German state railways runs the royal train and much else. The incomes of Dutch and French state railways are also enhanced at the expense of British taxpayers and passengers, money to be used in improving foreign networks. The almost complete failure to realise the promises of the 1992 white paper should be no surprise.
I wonder if the then prime minister, John Major, has ever contemplated giving a toy train set to his grandchildren and, if so, whether he would have thought it sensible to give the track to one of their cousins and the rolling stock to another cousin and then given money to the grandchildren so they could rent their toy from their relatives. That was the way our railways were privatised and remains a structural battiness matched only by denationalising our state railways by leasing them to other country’s state railways.
Tranent, East Lothian
• As a regular on the Birmingham New Street to London Euston service I am disappointed and concerned about the franchise decision made (Report, 30 July). However, one positive outcome that might emerge is to raise awareness of the simplistic tickbox processes used to award public contracts. The procurement industry was effectively established by the previous government – for legitimate reasons. However, it often uses blunt quantifiable criteria which cannot discriminate between unrealistic and reasonable bids, and fails to recognise the value of existing service delivery in terms of building relationships and of the time/expense required in developing an understanding of specific service demands.
Director, Vector Research Limited
• Given that the increased price of air tickets has been (at least in part) responsible for the higher CPI rate, and, in turn, this rise is stimulating an above-inflation increase in rail fares, I presume the latter is likely to cause (or contribute to) a further increase in CPI (next year when the rail fare rises come into effect) … and so on. All a bit circular and self-defeating isn’t it?
• Surely John Major will be best remembered for the botched, rushed, ideologically driven privatisation of the railways (Letters, 14 August), which has resulted in FirstGroup, the operators of arguably Britains worst rail service, the TransPennine Express – upon which a three-hour journey without seat or refreshments is often a feature – being given the west coast rail franchise. And for Edwina and the cones hotline of course.