I wrote the following comments (amended) on the future of UK’s railways and sent them to ‘Modern Railways’ magazine:
With the current situation, there is very little competition and also no co-ordination as to who can do what and when, and no flexibility with regard to innovation, so my tentative suggestions as to improving the situation are as follows:
Abolish all franchises as they currently are, except Scotrail, Northern Ireland Railways and possibly Arriva Wales and re-structure as follows:
- Network Rail – to own and run all the track and signalling throughout the UK, with its income to come from access charges, but where a railway company gets price reductions, the more track it uses. The Government should give it a grant for new tracks and signalling on an annual basis. Between cities, there should be four tracks so as to provide ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ services and to allow competing companies to operate. There should also be an accelerated programme for the electrification of all track, with ‘green’ electric power coming from the track, but made safe so that only power comes on when the trains actually connect with the track. They need to find a lot more staff to facilitate the work to be done during the night from 12.00 am to 5.00 am each day except on Sundays. This includes intensive maintenance of all tracks and signalling as well as barriers.
- A new company should be set up to operate all the stations, with its income coming from the railway companies for stopping at each station. If a service stops more than twice an hour, there should be cheaper charges. Each station to build a community link between local heritage, environment, the bus companies, police and other interest locals so as to increase improvements at each station as well as security and usage. They should be used for non-train purposes to avoid vandalism. Marketing should play a large part in a station’s life. Hence the importance of each station being manned. Stations should be altered so that, along with the trains, they are step free – to facilitate access for the disabled, families with children and the frail.
- Companies should be allowed to operate services wherever they wish, in conjunction with the Network Rail, the stations’ company and the strengthened Office of the Rail Regulator. Hence the need for more track. This will stimulate competition. New routes should be encouraged, especially east to west and linked with bus services at interchanges. If a route is not likely to make a small profit, a subsidy should be given to the franchisor, paid for by local council and national government.
- Train companies should have unlimited access to either buy or lease whatever trains they want, providing the trains meet certain criteria regarding step-free access to stations, spaces for wheelchairs and other mobility equipment, braille and loop systems, decent seat pitches for passengers (so they are not like cattle on planes), both for leg room and width, and they are adaptable to either electric or non-electric power, and only using renewable energy. Better catering facilities, with cheaper prices, should also be provided on more trains. There should also be a certain amount of co-ordination between companies over ticketing and timetabling to make it easier to access cheaper fares and make sure timetabling doesn’t chaos periods of no trains or connections. The companies should not receive a subsidy from the government, instead they should receive a one-off subsidy, based on track usage, as a start-up’ package. Franchisors should be encouraged to buy trains that can travel a minimum of 125 mph and have dynamic external and internal designs that make them unique (see the continental trains).
- There should also be a ‘national’ intercity train company, offering prime services between London and key cities throughout England, Wales and Scotland. These are to include the major ferry and freight ports. This would be a ‘franchised’ operation, but with no subsidy. These companies should have a unique ‘branding’ as well as trains that can travel at least 150 mph.
- And finally, the Office of the Rail Regulator should have the full authority to inspect the track, signalling, stations and trains and all the companies concerned to check they are upholding standards and fining them accordingly when they do not. Inspections should occur on a six monthly basis. This office would also run the Rail Investigation Branch for accidents.