A Third Way for Britain's Railways

Britain's railways need more, not less, competition. Entrepreneur and journalist Adrian Quine sets out an alternative to the status quo to see off calls for re-nationalisation. 

  • Efficient infrastructure is the bedrock of a successful economy. For too long Britain has failed to take bold decisions and is lagging behind fast-growing economies such as China and India. The lack of new towns, airport runways, modern power stations and high speed internet is hampering UK growth.
     
  • The UK rail network is no exception and is a prime example of where investment is urgently needed. However it also needs a fundamental change in its structure too. The industry is facing crisis; public confidence is at an all-time low with growing calls for re-nationalisation worryingly gaining momentum.
     
  • Passengers are fed up with the status quo but nationalisation is not the answer.
     
  • Privatisation was supposed to bring about competition however this has not been achieved. British Rail (BR), a state run monopoly, has simply been replaced with largely non-competing privately-run franchises delivering the same uncompetitive model as was the case under BR.
     
  • The Department for Transport (DfT) stipulates exactly what a franchised train company can offer: dictating timetables, frequency, stopping patterns and even minor details such as whether a train has a catering trolley or not. Under the current model Train Operating Companies (TOCs) have very little room or incentive to show flair or innovation. What is needed is less central control, not more while protecting core services.
     
  • The current ‘one size fits all’ franchise model needs to be replaced with a system that is agile and best reflects the diverse needs of the passengers it serves. The railway must be competitive to encourage innovation, improve standards and drive down fares. 
     
  • Different railway routes serve different markets. The new structure needs to better reflect the specific needs of passenger types on each route – whether they be commuters, business or leisure travellers. There needs to be a better distinction between the commercial and social railway and to create bespoke models that best serve the passenger, communities, businesses, and taxpayer.
     
  • Flexible long distance train fares are some of the most expensive in the world. It is often cheaper to fly twice the distance. The current privatised railway model is largely immune from the basic principle of competition as each franchise is, in effect a monopoly in its own right.
     
  • This paper advocates a new, fresh and dynamic approach to running Britain’s passenger train services that best reflects the markets they serve while also driving down costs and improving the service for the end user. By creating choice, fares will be lowered, service standards will be raised and costs can be reduced proving a ‘win win’ for both passenger and taxpayer.

Read the full paper