Well, here we are, as a not-side-effect of the not-so-unexpected GE, and despite the chaos and ineptitude of Brexit hogging all the attention ( at least of the UK media, the rest of the world is yawning about it most days now ) with Britains Railways finally back in the ‘top 10’ of rolling political stories…
…and for a reason other than strikes, delays or landslips. Thus putting a long overdue spotlight on the overall question of how the railways should be run per se.
Now i’m hoping the discussion doesn’t stay as ‘just’ the supposed hot-potato of the by now well-worn and vehemently argued Nationalisation arguments, but gets taken well into the territory of transport and infrastructure policy overall in the UK.
For instance, to throw just a few questions into the ring, for starters; ( this will run and run…)
1. Why – in all the argument about TOCs and NR so far – is there no mention of the freight franchises ?
Are these actually secondary in revenue to passenger services nowadays, or is this vital transport element of the UK not considered worthy of ‘strategic’ thinking at the same time as the more publicly ‘felt’ side of rail ?
2. Have any of the main political parties engaged at all with any of the various single-issue campaigns for rail re-openings ?
And if so why have we not heard any call for a co-ordinated and thought-through assessment of re-opening options that would consider the benefits to the whole network of each, and not, as present, all of these proposals being considered in isolation and ‘promoted’ by local and regional authorities ?
3. Even if (re)Nationalisation in some form or at some level went ahead in the next few years, is it not ironic that ‘New-BR’ or whatever it got called, would suffer a case of history partially repeating itself, as well as some irony, in that it would be ‘inheriting’ a lot of old stock, just as ‘Original-BR’ did in 1948, and which much of in the present case is well over 20 years old and so in fact was made for and often BY the ‘original’ BR anyway ?
Would provision be made in any NATIONAL plan for the long-overdue CENTRAL programme of stock replenishment that is needed, as opposed to the current fragmented and self-interested ( and show-off ) purchases of a passenger sets at for specific routes or areas by the TOCs ?
4. and…. although not exactly a key aspect that active railway observers can have missed before now, the question of where and by who the large ammount of stock will be manufactured is, perhaps, the biggest hot-potato within the overall political hot-potato, that the Public at large haven’t really started to talk about……
One truth seems to me that while a majority of the public want the franchise mess to be cleared up – as they can see it doesn’t work from their own experience and wallet-lightening – nevertheless by and large they still view the railway system as very much a ‘mystery’ that only ‘experts’ or nerds know anything in detail about.
Something that, for all the cuts of the past 55 years, is a familiar ‘presence’ in peoples working lives or leisure time, as well as part the landscape and urban environment itself…. but is to them at one and the same time both;
a) A thing they perceive in ‘historical’ terms; already there since long before they were born..
b) ….something very new that they are suspicious of the future-use arguments for….
I think my point, to start as i mean to go on here on this site, is that reducing the many problems AND potential strengths of Britains Railways down to a single ‘binary’ issue of re-nationalisation is just as much a case of missing both the detail and the wider picture as a certain ‘simplification’ to a yes or no answer last June was.
To be continued…..