It is time to set the railways free. It's plain to see that despite the privatization of the railways in the mid-1990s, government interference has only worsened, to the point where David Briginshaw (Editor-in-Chief, International Rail Journal) writing about privatization around the globe states:
"In Britain, for example, we have the worst of all worlds. The government is now controlling franchisees so strictly that all the innovation that arrived with privatization has been squeezed out and the government now exercises far greater control over the passenger operators than was the case with state-owned British Rail."
The government, according to Mr Wolmar, has painted itself into a corner: if passenger numbers fall then the financial demands placed on train operating companies (TOC) by the government mean many may depart the rail industry. If numbers increase, then there will be demands that the infrastructure is improved and expanded, something which will cost the government a lot of money, and something they don't want to spend money they've not got on. The current problems found on the railways are only set to worsen over the coming years due to the political interference that has now seeped into the day-to-day running of the railways. But this crisis is one that could be avoided, and easily: we need to privatize the railways once and for all.
The current system whereby TOCs are separated from the rolling stock and the track they use means that any sense of control over their operations has been totally lost. It is time to allow companies to purchase rail lines, and rolling stock. Vertical integration (much feared by the left) is the simplest way that the railways could be saved. If monopoly of service is feared then competition needs to encouraged by allowing new rival rail lines to be constructed (or, indeed, old rail lines brought back into service). The railways need to be depoliticized, and given the opportunity to flourish.