Sir - Your extensive reports on the situation in Britain (RG 9.01) leave one in no doubt that the method of privatisation chosen for British Rail has been a total disaster. Of course, it is not possible to judge how some other system would have performed, or how BR would have fared if it had remained in the public sector. But there are other points not touched on which demonstrate how far Britain’s railways have regressed.
Electrification, which proceeded on a stop-go basis under BR, has now come to a total stop, the only firm proposals being for a couple of small in-fill schemes (Ashford - Hastings, Hurst Green - Uckfield) that should have been carried out years ago. Additionally, very poor use is being made of the wires on some routes. Many London - Norwich services are now worked by DMUs; what a waste of expensive publicly-funded assets.
Linked to this is the conversion of much of the network to a ’two-car DMU’ railway. These trains certainly fulfil the franchisees’ requirement for ’go anywhere’ rolling stock, but many designs are not well-suited to the needs of passengers; cleanliness, ambience and reliability all suffer under the pressure of punishing schedules and short turnaround times. I do not know whether to laugh or cry when I read of the need for trains to stop at stations so that passengers can use the toilet or buy refreshments, or that in Scotland passengers’ bicycles are being carried by road vehicles running parallel with the trains.
Privatisation has also dealt a blow to the programme of line and station reopenings that was such a success story in BR’s latter years. These are seemingly far too expensive under the present regime.
Other rolling stock is languishing ’off-lease’, perfectly serviceable but deemed too expensive to hire and operate. These are shortly to be considerably augmented by quantities of MkII and MkIII coaches displaced from the Virgin franchises. Another sad waste of valuable assets.
Finally, it must be deeply disturbing that rail’s image has fallen so low in the country that gave railways to the world. Sure, BR was often the butt of jokes, but I recall nothing to match the way Railtrack has been reviled in the national press, or the loathing that Connex has engendered amongst its customers.
There was a telling comment by the Chair of the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority in your newsletter Rail Business Intelligence (RBI157 p7). ’On no day since privatisation has the service provided met that contracted for in the franchise agreement.’ Truly, you are in a mess!