Christian Wolmar, RAIL columnist
The hastily drawn-up privatisation of the railways in the mid-1990s was always flawed, not least because it was based on the idea of stimulating on-rail competition.
That Holy Grail was not only unachievable, because of the limitations of a technology dependent on trains running to timetable on a limited number of tracks, it also inevitably (as Ian Taylor shows) resulted in the fragmentation of an industry which traditionally had been run in an integrated way. Indeed, railways around the world throughout history, with very few exceptions, had been run by organisations which controlled both the infrastructure and the operations.
The impossible pursuit of competition led John Major’s government to break up the railways, to put in place an experimental system which had never been tried anywhere else in the world.
If one were to choose between which aspect of the structural changes of the 1990s was the most damaging to the smooth and economic running of the railway network, fragmentation would undoubtedly come top of the list. Oddly enough, Chris Grayling recognises that his ideological adherence to privatisation means he is unable to tackle the issue.