Rail network proposals destined to derail

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I don’t agree with much of what Simon Jenkins says about plans for a partially nationalized and partially privatized rail network (there is nothing ‘great’ about this new overhaul of British railways, 20 may), but he is correct that the model is proposed is wrong. There was a simple maxim that the reason the private sector was involved in public services was to transfer risk. The private sector was supposed to be good at taking risks. It targets investments to make the service attractive. He then sells this service to maximize profits. Making the right decisions is the hard thing – it’s the risk he takes. To do this, he must be empowered to make key decisions, such as the size of the service and how often it will run, to match the number that he thinks he can sell. The more he sells, the better the profits. Simple.

But the new model of Great British Railways takes those risks away from the private sector. Decisions about “magnitude” and “frequency” will be made by the government. Private companies will simply be paid to run the trains. The only variable under the control of the private sector will be costs. The decision, therefore, will no longer be “how much do we sell?”, As will be set by the government, but “how can we deliver this cheaply?”. To maximize profits, companies will have only one goal: to reduce costs. And we have to believe Grant Shapps when he says this will translate to better service?
Shaun Soper
Midhurst, West Sussex

William-Shapps’ white paper (Great British Railways plan to simplify privatized system, May 19) is an interesting overview of how the government views the rail industry and the franchise system. The latter was introduced to improve competition and efficiency by allowing third parties to bid for public contracts, but this has proven to be flawed. One such flaw is the practice of overly optimistic auctions, where bids appear to offer good value for money and which can result in poor service.

We should therefore welcome the arrival of the Great British Railways, because it will set most of the fares. The white paper says the changes will improve efficiency. My research over the past few years has focused on the perception of efficiency, and I have interviewed train conductors, driver managers and clients and managers. Early results reveal a more complex story than the white paper accounts. For example, the UK’s rail infrastructure will prove to be a challenge for decades as many disruptions are inevitable. All it takes is a leaf on a runway, a passenger intrusion, or a faulty piece of Victorian infrastructure for there to be a domino effect across the network. Maybe it’s time to stop fetishizing efficiency in favor of a safer, more people-centered railroad.
Daniel Fisher
PhD student, Bayes Business School (formerly Cass), London

I can only congratulate myself on the decision to rename the railway industry Great British Railways, and I have no doubts that this will lead to massive improvements. But an opportunity for an even better name was missed. Is it too late to suggest British Railways beating the world?
Andrew Spackman
Byfield, Northamptonshire

Noting that the government’s response to criticism from public organizations is to add a superlative, could the Great British Railways be joined by the Terrific National Health Service and Absolutely Splendid BBC? Because they are worth it.
Bill Bradbury
Bolt

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