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Nationalise the Railways?


My first thoughts after Jeremy Corbyn’s inept spinning of the supposed state of our railways was that he was most certainly taking on the wrong enemy. Whatever you think of Richard Branson, his profile is strong amongst the public who to the bafflement of Labour’s leadership generally respect self made billionaires provided that they clearly do not grossly overstep the mark in the manner of the venal Philip Green.

Anyone who has dealt with some of the Virgin brands in business will know full well that they can be ruthless and demanding. I certainly have a story or two regarding the ethics of Virgin Megastore from my time in the music business. That hard headed behaviour extends to their corporate PR ( and why not) which is again something that Corbyn should have been very clearly aware of.

Either way this has raised the issue of “overcrowding” on the railways as well as a somewhat knee jerk call for nationalisation. All this is being exacerbated by the industrial disputes across the network.

Is this the answer? Somewhat surprisingly the Guardian of all papers, runs this astute piece  which would probably not be welcomed by “state owned railway” enthusiasts.

I am a very regular user of railways. Being self employed does mean that I can avoid the worst bottlenecks of course so my view is likely to be more benign than that of a commuter but there is a simple overriding factor at play here.

More people are using railways than any time since the 1920s. It is very clear that if the trains were so awful, the service unreliable and the fares too expensive, then this would not be the case. Its straightforward supply and demand and there are alternatives available for the customers.

The fact is that despite the moans many trains are by far the best and most enjoyable form of travel. Demand is outstripping supply and unfortunately its difficult to expand supply in the short or even medium term. South West Trains have extended many trains on my routes from eight to ten carriages and that has necessitated extending platforms across the network. They are also bringing in bigger trains next year and you have to really ask what more can they do? As an aside South West Trains are very decent. I have also found Virgin GWR and South Eastern to be attractive to use but Southern most certainly offer a poor service with an attitude. Additionally anyone time travelling back to the days of BR from my station would be shocked by how many fewer trains there were with certainly a lot less capacity. Thats before we get onto the reliability.

But the big question is will nationalisation make much difference? The clear answer is no. Political parties suggesting such remedies will have to offer more than “the state knows best”. As the linked piece clearly suggests there is little manoeuvre  to cut fares and virtually none for increased capacity.


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