Christian Wol­mar, RAIL colum­nist

Rail (UK) - - Fea­ture Na­tion­al­i­sa­tion -

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.

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