‘The biggest rail change in 25 years’: In the UK, the country is regaining control of trains. He writes for the French newspaper Le Monde
A public company will now oversee the operation of the network. Although this is not a complete nationalization, he writes the worldThe impact of the private sector will decrease.
Gradually, without saying so publicly, Boris Johnson dismantles the Thatcherite revolution, point by point. After a sharp increase in government spending in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the British prime minister is undertaking an overhaul of the railway system, which greatly undermines the privatization launched in 1994. On Thursday 20 May, the British government announced the creation of a public company that will oversee On running the UK trains. “This is the biggest change in railways in twenty-five yearsGrant Shaps, Secretary of Transportation, and Keith Williams, author of the white paper outlining the reform, announced.
The two men were very careful not to mention nationalization. Great British Railways, the new company, will not run the trains directly, but will sign subcontracts with private companies that will provide the service. However, the change is fundamental:Private firms will no longer bear risks to their returnsNotes by Michael Holden, Independent Railways Consultant and Ex-President of a Private Railroad Company. Their job is to make sure that the train schedules are accurate and not filled. Great British Railways will set times, rates and routes to be operated.
Since its introduction, the privatization of the railway system has already undergone significant reductions. In 2002, the railways were returned to state control. Two serious accidents resulting from the lack of maintenance have convinced the government of the necessity to stop experimenting with this sector. To run the trains, private companies have so far been competing forPrivilegesThat is, regional monopolies that gave it very broad powers over schedules and prices (even if the latter remained regulated).
The problems are very clear
For users, this does not give an impression of the competition: with few exceptions, most destinations are served by only one company. On the other hand, the situation is complicated. Depending on the route, you must use different companies to purchase train tickets. Prices are particularly vague and volatile, with discounts often unintelligible. “The current railroad system is a maze of agreements between hundreds of partners signed and supervised by battalions of lawyers and advisors.We read in the white paper.
The most surprising symptom is the battle raging over delays, with a third of the trains arriving in late 2019, before the outbreak. Up to 400 employees of Network Rail, the company that currently runs the tracks, are responsible for assigning responsibilities and then deciding who will have to compensate. “About 40% of the delays are disputedThe white paper continues. To take an incredible example, the question once arose whether the pheasant, which caused the delay, was a “little bird” and, if so, the responsibility for the railway operator, orBig birdIn this case, you will go to the Network Rail.
The White Paper estimates that overhauling the system will save 1.5 billion pounds (1.7 billion euros) annually, or 15% of ticket revenue. “Public opinion has never accepted privatization of trains. Its problems are very clear“, Outlines the white paper. However, it was not a complete failure. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of train passengers doubled in a quarter of a century.
Railways are very profitable: every kilometer of railways is covered twice as much as in France. On the other hand, ticket prices have increased, in real terms, by 50%. But the model has been faltering for some time. Over the past decade, many concessions have gone bankrupt and had to be nationalized, in one form or another temporarily. The pandemic has accelerated the system’s collapse. The state pumped 12 billion pounds to save the trains. Announced reform draws logical conclusions.
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