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Rail (UK) - - Con­tents -

Nigel Har­ris is right to be­moan the con­sis­tent ‘hit­ting the post’ and missed goals of the Rail Delivery Group’s well-meant at­tempt to tackle and ex­pose Labour’s flawed plans to re­na­tion­alise the rail­ways ( RAIL 839). It is as frus­trat­ing as it is de­press­ing.

In the 54 pages of the RDG re­port In Part­ner­ship for Bri­tain’s

Pros­per­ity, there isn’t one ref­er­ence to the need to de­liver more on-track rail com­pe­ti­tion, which de­liv­ers real pas­sen­ger choice - but in­stead there are var­i­ous ref­er­ences to the need for more com­pe­ti­tion at the fran­chise bid stage. This is phrased as a need for more ‘com­pe­ti­tion for the mar­ket’, which surely should read more ‘com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­ket’.

This con­scious and con­sis­tent blind spot for the RDG and some civil ser­vants helps give weight to many of Jeremy Cor­byn’s mis­taken but tabloid-friendly ac­cu­sa­tions.

I have de­bated with Labour politi­cians in the past on the fu­ture of rail, and they tend to go very quiet when you point out that the high­est rail pas­sen­ger sat­is­fac­tion in the UK is on the East Coast Main Line, where two open ac­cess op­er­a­tors com­pete with the fran­chise and de­liver choice, fare com­pe­ti­tion and more routes - with many in Labour heart­lands.

Im­por­tantly, the Com­pe­ti­tion and Mar­kets Au­thor­ity has also de­liv­ered re­search on this is­sue with its con­sid­er­able 235-page Com­pe­ti­tion in Pas­sen­ger Rail Ser­vices in Great Bri­tain re­port from 2016. It rec­om­mended that more on-track com­pe­ti­tion should be de­liv­ered, ei­ther with much more open ac­cess com­pet­ing with fran­chises on the same rail­way or with mul­ti­ple op­er­a­tors pro­vid­ing ser­vices in a fully com­mer­cial en­vi­ron­ment, sub­ject to a li­cens­ing regime which would man­age the auc­tion­ing of train paths.

These were pre­ferred against two other op­tions ex­am­ined: two suc­cess­ful bid­ders for each fran­chise; and fran­chise over­laps on spe­cific flows. It called on the Gov­ern­ment to start im­ple­ment­ing its rec­om­men­da­tions on longdis­tance in­ter-city routes from 2023.

En­cour­ag­ingly, Sec­re­tary of State for Trans­port Chris Grayling told the Com­mons (in re­ply to Tewkes­bury’s Con­ser­va­tive MP Lau­rence Robert­son) on Oc­to­ber 19: “We wel­come open ac­cess ap­pli­ca­tions. They have made a real dif­fer­ence to many towns and cities around the coun­try. It is clear that open ac­cess should hap­pen where there is ca­pac­ity for it to take place and that it fills in gaps and puts in com­pe­ti­tion.”

The rail in­dus­try should now seize the ini­tia­tive and en­cour­age Gov­ern­ment to de­liver a more com­pet­i­tive rail­way, in line with the CMA’s calls and the suc­cess­ful and ma­ture ECML test case. Oth­er­wise, Cor­byn’s calls for na­tion­al­i­sa­tion will grow louder and win even more sup­port­ers, most of whom don’t re­mem­ber the fail­ures and man­aged de­cline of the old Bri­tish Rail. Tony Lodge, Re­search Fel­low, Cen­tre for Pol­icy Stud­ies Au­thor, Rail’s Sec­ond Chance - putting com­pe­ti­tion back on track


Open ac­cess op­er­a­tor Grand Cen­tral has been run­ning on the East Coast Main LIne for a decade, from Sun­der­land to Lon­don via the Durham Coast Line, but had to fight hard to gain a foothold. A GC HST leaves New­cas­tle on April 7 2009 with an empty coach­ing stock move for Heaton de­pot.

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