LETTER: Time to stop playing trains

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The Secretary of State castigated the performance of British Rail in a recent announcement and was triumphalist about the impact of privatisation.

He accused BR of failing. He neatly missed the obvious point that for decades the rail sector was subjected to binary on-off investment decisions by governments, a succession of incompetent ministers, overt government bias towards funding road schemes and micro-management by the DfT. This continues despite the railways being allegedly privatised.

Recent investment schemes in electrification have been petulantly cancelled despite millions being spent on preparatory works now deemed un-necessary.

At a time of alleged austerity this seems at best reckless and ill-judged and that is before any reckoning on the long term damage done to the rail sector and users. It destroys any national strategy on energy, transport and spatial planning.

The DfT and Network Rail were rightly castigated by the National Audit Office last year for making a huge mess of the electrification project on the GW lines from Paddington.

The fault lies at the feet of the Secretary of State and the incompetence of his department and Network Rail for developing this specific project ahead of other more attractive options.

Rather than admitting these failings we are subjected to a barrage of bravado.

The SofS has also neatly ducked (until now) any credible attempt to resolve the long running strike scenario on lines in Sussex. He is the nominal (?) top dog in government with responsibility for transport but seems disinclined to resolve the ongoing saga of strikes, cancellations and poor performance. He appears to want to stand away from this scenario and looks increasingly Teflon coated.

Supporting the development of a second mainline between Brighton and London also looks to be a distraction by the SofS from the hard realities of sorting out the current mess the industry is in.

Typical smokescreen and bluster but it won’t wash.

The endless re-hashing and re-announcement of previous funded projects will not act as a fig leaf either.

There is a need for a sustained period of high routine levels of punctuality, safety, comfort, security and value for money for passenger and freight services with a lot less triumphalism.

Either we have a state railway properly funded and managed (preferably by the Swiss) or we have a privatised railway able to operate without the endless interference and meddling of ministers and bureaucrats not charged with selling and delivering services on a routine basis.

Time to stop playing trains.