IAN HART: Did profit before service scupper railway network?

Ian Hart
Ian Hart

Before funeral directing, over 30 years ago, I was lucky enough as a fresh-faced 18-year-old to work up in the City of London. This involved travelling up to the capital each morning by train.

So it was an appointment with the 6.16am from West Worthing station to London Bridge every morning, with the return journey at 5.15pm.

Back then it was good-old British Rail, stations fully staffed even at that time of the morning, trains with slam-door carriages, drivers, guards and ticket collectors.

I can’t exclusively look back with rose-tinted spectacles because there were the occasional staff disputes.

But seeing the events of the latest rail strike unfold this week, I do wonder if as a nation we deserve to reap what we’ve sown when it comes to public transport.

Like I said, British Rail was by no means perfect, but as a government-run body, whilst profit is a basic necessity the needs and demands of owners and shareholders are not also a priority.

Without wishing to engage in finger pointing, whoever sanctioned the break up of BR and the subsequent forming of the various private rail providers is partly responsible for the carnage on Southern Rail this week.

I can’t and won’t use this column for the purpose of union bashing. In this dispute there is blame on both sides.

The only long-term solution I, and I’d imagine most others, can see is for the government to intervene, take away the rail provider’s licence to operate and effectively restart a national, state-owned rail network, whose emphasis is on running an efficient service rather than shareholders dividends.

Travelling around the globe it’s obvious that if you provide an efficient and affordable public transport network then the public will use it, in turn reducing the number of private cars on the roads.

Not exactly rocket science but perhaps something that wasn’t foreseen when they dismantled BR.


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