Coffee House

Ed’s one-way ticket

10 May 2014

4:32 PM

10 May 2014

4:32 PM

Miliband has also been busy ‘looking at options’ for renationalising Britain’s railways at the end of current franchise contracts. This is yet another of what I have called Labour’s ‘targeted tweets’ designed to please trade unions and pick off loose voters — in this case disgruntled south–eastern commuters. What it’s not is a credible, costed policy. Even Ed Balls is said to be distancing himself from such a retrograde idea, while Martin Griffiths, chief executive of the Stagecoach transport group, rightly called it ‘a one-way ticket to higher taxes’ and others in the industry point out that there could be no quicker way to kill existing plans for investment in better trains.

The Miliband case, if we can dignify it thus, is based on the relative success of the East Coast service run by Directly Operated Railways, the ‘arm’s length company’ created by the Department for Transport in 2009 when National Express threw in the towel. As a frequent traveller, I can confirm that East Coast is a marginal improvement on National Express, which was dire but was only there for two years; what’s forgotten is that GNER, the first franchisee on the route from 1996 to 2007, ran a service that set new benchmarks and won real customer loyalty before it was brought down by cash-flow problems in its parent, Sea Containers.

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And the irony is that arguably the best of today’s services are already wholly or partly state-owned — just not by our own state. CrossCountry, Grand Central and Chiltern are part of Arriva, owned by German taxpayers through Deutsche Bahn; the Dutch are in East Anglia and the north; the French have 55 per cent of Eurostar.

This is not a rigid ideological issue, because many of the world’s best railways are state-owned. But ours in the British Rail era were among the world’s, or at least Europe’s, worst — ill-managed, under-invested and at the mercy of the unions. Thank goodness Ed Miliband has no real intention of taking them back there.


GoveThis is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s Any Other Business column in this week’s magazine. Click here to read for free with a trial of The Spectator app for iPad and iPhone. You can also subscribe with a free trial on the Kindle Fire.

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Show comments
  • Des Demona

    ”Martin Griffiths, chief executive of the Stagecoach transport group, rightly called it ‘a one-way ticket to higher taxes’”
    ”Boss of major transport franchise is against nationalisation” shock

    ”This is not a rigid ideological issue, because many of the world’s best railways are state-owned.”

    Correct.

    ”But ours in the British Rail era were among the world’s, or at least Europe’s, worst”

    But this is not that era. And our is the most expensive network in Europe. So the benefit of privatisation was what exactly?

  • Jamie

    I compare the dreadful nationalised railways in France and Germany to our own shining example of free market, private sector efficiency, and I’m just so very glad the Major government made the wise decision to privatise our railways.

  • Andy B

    ‘existing plans for investment in better trains.’ …these are already paid for by the tax payer through state subsidies ….

  • andagain

    Aren’t the ECML operators with the best reputation the open access operators? Hull Trains and all that.

    That is what we should be encouraging.

    • Alexsandr

      and GCR. they do the sunderland and bradford trains. Places east coast cant be bothered with.

  • alabenn

    Thank goodness Ed Miliband has no real intention of taking them back there.

    You and your journalist friends underestimate the depth of this mans left leanings, he is his commie fathers alter ego, he will nationalise the whole lot, by the time his government has been in power for a few years the country will be on life support, the train companies will be begging him to take them.
    .

  • Smithersjones2013

    This is yet another of what I have called Labour’s ‘targeted tweets’
    designed to please trade unions and pick off loose voters — in this case
    disgruntled south–eastern commuters.

    Hmmmm Funny that as South Eastern railways was publicly controlled between 2002 and 2006 and was only put back in the private sector after the Labour Government had agreed heavy subsidies and a 3% above inflation increase in charges year on year until 2011. It sounds to me like Labour have already done enough damage to the lot of South Eastern commuters lot already.

  • Realpolitik/ fruitcake/ racist

    The Tories don’t help themselves, all labour have to do is say “tory toffs” every now and then and they won’t have any problems. Every centre right voter should back UKIP, the tories are too badly stained to revive, it’s over.

  • Alexsandr

    One must assume a state run franchise will be under the department for transport. Oh thats good then. The Dft that starved BR of investment -indeed considered track relaying as investment. The DfT that has reorganised the rail industry and never got it right, the DfT that made a clusterf*ck of the west coast franchise reletting. The DfT that let the Northern franchise ona no growth basis, and have seen Northern increase ridership by over 40%
    I would be averse to letting these goons anywhere near a franchise.
    and the huge cost on railways after network rail is train leasing. But where would the government get the cash to buy out leases. and if they did would they have the cash to keep the trains in good order and pleasant to travel in or would they just become tatty and unattractive. Just look at the money the ROSCo’s spend on train refurbishment.

  • Andy

    I agree: GNER were great. National Express were terrible, so East Coast is a slight improvement but they are nowhere near as good as GNER.

  • John Smith

    Many more people use the railways nowadays.
    Anyone who used British Rail knows why
    All these 1960, 70 & 80’s policies were failures

  • realfish

    And as a user of many of the TOCs, the best of the lot in my experience and that of many of its customers is Virgin who have delivered a real step change in customer service since privatisation.

    The real irony is that we do not have a totally privatised railway. The track and route is in public ownership under the stewardship of Network Rail, the organisation to which 70% + of passenger delays can be attributed.

    • Alexsandr

      and the TOC’s are micromanaged my the DfT. Even as to what trains they can have to run their services.

    • HJ777

      Quite correct.

      I frequently have to point out to the poorly informed that the rail network itself (as opposed to the train operators) was effectively renationalised in 2002 and that subsidies only shot up after this re-nationalisation, not when the railways were privatised, as is often claimed.

  • AliciaLStacey

    As a frequent traveller, I can confirm that East Coast is a marginal improvement on National Express, which was dire but was only there for two years; what’s forgotten is that GNER, the first franchisee on the route from 1996 to 2007, ran a service that set new benchmarks and won real customer loyalty before it was brought down by cash-flow problems in its parent, Sea Containers. http://num.to/8724-2372-4849

    • Alexsandr

      sea containers withdrew from GNER because the losses were more than the company could bear. And the losses were caused by the government allowing an open access operator to seriously abstract business from GNER affecting their bottom line. One cannot operate a business with moving goalposts like that.

  • Darnell Jackson

    He will try though cos the unions will tell him to.

    Light weight.

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