French record train shows need for changes in UK

04 April 2007

Yesterday a French double-decker TGV train got up to speeds of 357mph. If it was employed in the UK, it could get from Edinburgh to London in 64 minutes.

‘So why can’t we get anywhere near the French when it comes to rail technology?’ asks ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman – who goes on to say there are two answers. ‘The French have central control over their railways – and, by not involving private firms on short-term franchises, they can make long term investments.’

Keith argues that franchised companies don’t plan any further than the end of their franchise – which is usually in the region of seven years. ‘They feel justified in not spending money that will benefit the next firm to take over the franchise. That’s how private companies work – but it’s not a suitable strategy for planning a major public service.

‘Moreover, the government is powerless to control or direct our railways once it has given away the franchise. It is at the mercy of the company. Government becomes a spectator, not a player.

‘Politicians rush to rostrums to declare that rail is one of the main keys to delivering our obligations to the Kyoto Treaty for reducing carbon emissions. They claim to be in favour of expanding our railways and eliminating the wasteful and harmful effects of road and air traffic on the environment.

‘But the folly is that they have made themselves powerless to do anything about it.’

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