Inexplicable Demands

Train operating companies, you would hope, would know something about how the railways work. It is therefore inexplicable why ATOC (the Association of Train Operating Companies) wants a “swift and rigorous” review of railway investment.

This is the British rail industry we’re talking about, nothing is swift and nothing is rigorous. Actually that’s unfair; much rigorous work is done, it’s just always ignored due to the paralysing fear of change or the fact it might cost more money. With the railways already being a colossal money pit (in stark contrast to the roads which turn a ‘profit’ for the government) it’s obvious why rigour is officially discouraged.

Their main points seem to be that the rail/train interface should be under unified control (theirs) and that a more commercially minded approach is needed. The later is debatable, certainly everyone else in the world manages to maintain their railways cheaper than in Britain but I’m not sure that’s a commercial issue. That’s an arse covering, fear of litigation problem. The former though is a common rail complaint which puts ATOC in the unique position of agreeing with the RMT, they both want unified control. It just the RMT want to bring back British Rail while ATOC want a fully privatised railway under their control (and no Railtrack emphatically didn’t count, it was never even slightly independent of government control and interference).

Quite why railwaymen are so keen on train operators controlling the track (or vice versa) I’ve no idea. I know why the RMT want it (nationalise everything!) and why ATOC want it (more money!) but why does anyone else want it, and want it they do. As a counter example no-one argues that air traffic control, runways and airliners should be controlled by the same people so why are the railways special? Indeed as the same people who want unified control normally looks enviously at German railways (with their cunning ‘timetable huge gaps to allow slack’ system) it should be remember that Germany operate a franchise system for train operations. But as that fact is inconvenient it will doubtless be ignored.

For all that getting ATOC involved would be handy, there are dozens of unglamorous but useful jobs that Network Rail aren’t interested in but would help train operation (it should come as no surprise that NR view actual trains as a necessary evil). But as passengers are way down the bottom of the priority list, only just above the taxpayers, there’s sod all chance of that happening.


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