Some ten to fifteen years ago the Conservative party was in power in the UK and to them the free market was king. It would solve all consumer problems, give us better services across the board and make everything cheaper. One of their biggest projects was to turn our nationally owned railway service into a number of privately owned companies. On just about every line there would be two or three companies who could run services and this would encourage competition on service levels and prices and the consumer would be the winner.
It didn’t, of course, work out like this. Many unprofitable lines are suffering from much reduced services and on many lines there is a bewildering choice of fares available. Surveys have demonstrated that these options confuse even the ticket sellers and there is plenty of evidence of people being sold the wrong tickets (or not being sold the cheapest ticket for their journey.
Take, for example, my experience on Saturday. We were meeting a friend at Liverpool St and travelling to Colchester. There are two companies that run services on that line. We weren’t sure when the friend we were meeting would turn up, but we knew we wanted to get the first train that left after she arrived. But the ticket seller asked us which company’s trains we wanted to travel on and we didn’t know that and I tried to explain that to her. “So what do you want?” she asked. “I want British Rail back please” I replied. This didn’t go down well and in order to enable us to travel on any train, she sold us the most expensive tickets.
But it seems that this situation may improve soon. The Strategic Rail Authority are the government body responsible for running the trains and they have decided that having multiple companines on the same track is not a good idea. So they are doing away with the competition. For example the three companies that run trains out of Liverpool Street will become one next year. This, apparently, will also happen in other areas.
So we’ll go to a situation where (and I’m making these numbers up, but they are in the right ballpark) instead of having 20 train companies in the country, we’ll have six or seven. And there will be no competition on any of the lines.
I just wonder where they came up with the new, lower, number of companies. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just go back to one company?