Thursday, July 02, 2009

Putting The National Into Express

So the East Coast Main Line rail franchise has collapsed. In other news, after their exhaustive review into toilet provision bears have announced a ten-year extension of their contract to use the woods for their defecatory needs...

What's surprising is that it took until the late bulletins to catch up with the fundamental point that all this has happened before. If AA's definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, I don't know how else to describe the government's bungling of the East Coast Main Line franchise. Having demanded ludicrous amounts of money from GNER and ended up bankrupting their parent company, they demand even more ludicrous amounts of money from National Express who end up telling them where to shove it.

Heck, I'm this close to giving Lord Adonis' comment, "the rail franchising system as it now exists, and is broadly running successfully" the Scunner Broon award for the sheer boldness of its naivete. For starters, the basic fact in this case is that rail subsidy has soared so much since privatisation that a desperate government is trying to force franchise bidders to pay enormous amounts back to them so they can get the sum down.

Consider also that the East Coast Main Line is the only intercity franchise that has not purchased any new trains, ever. Indeed, ECML services to Aberdeen, Inverness, Skipton and Harrogate are amongst those set to benefit from the Intercity Express Programme which was established expressly because train operators couldn't deliver major capital investment.

And then there's my personal favourite. The greatest single failure of privatisation has been competition, a beautiful idea that died about five minutes after the franchises were granted (specifically when Virgin told the government to guarantee them no competition on the West Coast Main Line or the deal was off). Still, in the few lucky places where there are different services on different lines, competition has been a success, places like Birmingham, Exeter... and Southend, where the Great Eastern and London-Tilbury-Southend lines head to Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street respectively. And who has the franchises for those lines?

National Express.

So while Lord Adonis goes round complaining that National Express get to keep both those franchises, be in no doubt that that is the result of a system that the government he serves in has done nothing to reform and has used so as to make things worse. What's more, it's a system that is beyond incremental changes and needs a bomb sticking up it; I liked Mark Valladares' ideas on that but I suspect that there's no route from this system to a fundamentally different one that doesn't go through nationalisation and if that's the case we should screw the fruit loops and get the hell on with it.

No comments: