Privatisation of British Rail - Future Directions

Future Directions

The Conservative Party, who initiated privatisation, are consulting upon options for the future. Several changes have been proposed including a shift to regional operators owning the track and trains for their regions. In their view the separation of track ownership from the service providers has proved a failure, and "the separation has helped push up the cost of running the railways'. Such a shift would represent a return to the old British Rail model, but implemented by non-government organisations and franchise holders. However, critics say that were such a model to be applied to basic rail infrastructure, it would risk replicating the original mistake of the 1993 Railways Act - which fragmented the operation of train services among two dozen different operators. Many of these share infrastructure, and run competing services. Such a plan would be unworkable without the prior consolidation of existing franchises into just a small handful of regional operators.

Before losing power, the Labour Party planned to reform the existing system, and was reviewing options including a trial re-integration in Scotland. There has been discussion about the extremely high profits the ROSCOs make and proposals that would allow TOCs to own more rolling stock, or even to allow Network Rail to lease some stock. There have also been some market led changes in this area already with TOCs hiring in rolling stock and even locomotives from heritage railway organisations.

In 2004, the Labour Party Conference voted by 2 to 1 in favour of a TSSA motion calling on the government to take the TOCs back into public ownership as franchises expired. The policy was however immediately ruled out by the then Transport Secretary Alastair Darling.

EWS has performed studies with Network Rail on the cost of maintenance and as a result is currently pursuing an attempt to persuade the government to allow freight only line maintenance (particularly of the many short lines linking industrial sites) to be derogated from Network Rail control. Based upon analysis performed and on American/Canadian working practices for such freight routes they believe this could halve their maintenance costs. Such an approach would however only be appropriate for freight only routes.

As of January 2011, both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party back the current model of privatised railways, as do the Conservatives' coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. The Green Party and TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) call for renationalisation of the network. Scottish Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Scottish Anti-cuts Coalition and the Scottish Greens all have advocated for the renationalisation of the current ScotRail contract currently operated by First Group.

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