Saturday, 29 May 2010

Rail privatisation

Dinner last night at Tom's Bar terrace at Somerset House. Perfectly acceptable nouvelle cuisine but a very noisy 'disco' background run by the prototypical middle aged bloke with designer shades, a shaved head and a trilby perched on top. No doubt he thinks he is very cool and a great hit with the young clientele.

Above the noise (we did get the nearest speaker turned off) I had an argument with an opinionated American (sometimes I ungraciously wonder if there is any other type) about rail privatisation. He said it was an unmitigated disaster: I thought it was more of a curate's egg.

As it happens the service to Leamington has greatly improved with the arrival of Chiltern Railways, now owned by Deutsche Bahn. There is, however, a less frequent alternative service run by the Wrexham & Shropshire company which I caught this morning.

They are using 1970s coaches which are slightly the worse for wear (despite a new external livery) and have seat numbers put up with paper and sellotape. I had forgotten that the arm rests don't move, but the seat was quite comfortable and there was a table. The train was moderately full. One of the nice features was a full service buffet where the train manager was serving behind the counter.

We went quite fast to Banbury, but then were diverted into a side platform. It seemed as if the timetable had a slot for the engine to take on water (Banbury is one of the few stations where it is available on the line) while in another platform we were overtaken by a Virgin Cross Country service.

It was all a bit retro, including having to lower the window to open the carriage door (health and safety?) but then I am up for that.


Charlie said...

I apologise but this is absolute codswallop. First, Virgin don't run the CrossCountry service, it's is now run by Arriva (prop. Deutsche Bahn), as is Open Access Wrexham and Shropshire, (also prop. Deutesche Bahn). The W&S train you travelled on happened to be the remaining carriage without the refurb, all the other ones provide an almost First Class service in terms of leather seats and leg room. Delays on their service are more frequent due to being Open Access and thus constrained by the Network Rail-designed main timetable.

The improvements Chiltern have brought in are largely down to the fact that it has a 20-year franchise, with larger committments, and that it is run by Adrian Shooter (former big man at British Railways, and thus one of the few managers left with railway experience). Fares have still
increased. Oh and the government subsidises rail by billions each year.

The moral of the story? Labour investment and the fact the network is overwhelmingly run by the German, French and Dutch state railways have led to the improvement we can see. All trains which now call at Leamington, and most freight are owned by the first two state railways; DB: Chiltern, W&S, Crosscountry and English Welsh & Scottish freight. SNCF: London Midland.

Sorry for the rant!

The moral of the story?

Wyn Grant said...

I'm not a train spotter, so I don't have detailed knowledge of who owns what. I was simply looking at it from the view of the customer. I think I would say the moral is: (i) The old British Railway corporate monolith did not work, although there was clearly under investment in the Thatcher era; (ii) Privatisation was botched, but had some beneficial consequences; (iii) There has been substantial investment, but what can be afforded now we have 'fiscal consolidation'?

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