Competition on the rails

By | Category: Travel rumblings
Northern Rail who could compete with First Trans Pennine from Manchester to York but don't and can't

Northern Rail who could compete with First Trans Pennine from Manchester to York but don’t and can’t

There is competition on our railway lines. That’s absolute rubbish as I have mentioned to readers before. Competition means that we have rival services on the same lines and that happens in just a few places like London to York.

For most of us, you have no option but who listens to a humble travel hack? Now a more respected individual, BBC Scotland’s Business Editor – Douglas Fraser – has weighed into the argument pointing out that it was due to a “complex, botched privatisation.”

He was writing a column for BBC’s online services about the fact that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating whether competition exists and how it does or doesn’t work.

To repeat myself, I can tell the CMA that there isn’t competition in any true sense of the word; just a system where the government wins (by raking in franchise money) and the traveller, holidaymaker and commuter doesn’t.

Fraser points out that that the CMA says “that the current model relies on an adequate level of profit to invest in the service, and that could be undercut by competition.” If that is the thinking in the CMA , it’s time to pension them off. Competition should cause price to drop as one train company competes with another to attract our business. Paying to stand, as I recently did when I returned from a trip abroad, at £50 a ticket is an indication that the system needs a radical overall so here’s an idea that few people in officialdom will like.

How about asking Michael O’Leary at Ryanair, Barbara Cassani who used to run Go Airlines or Carole McCall at EasyJet to run a train company. Let them pick any routes and run trains that compete over the same tracks as the existing players.

This isn’t a perfect solution as we will still need trains to run as a social service where lines might close otherwise. But I’d bet that any of the three people above could squeeze profits out of the system and rail fares would drop.

Fraser ends his thoughtful piece by predicting that there won’t be changes for years. Why? There are some franchises coming up for renewal soon. Change the rules and let any company that wants to compete do so.

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