Oct 2011 - Rail as a plaything for the rich

PHILIP HAMMOND, the Secretary of State for Transport, complained to the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport last month that the costs of tickets is making the railways ‘a rich man's toy’.

 

It’s not often I am speechless: but this was one of those times.

 

Mr Hammond is supposed to be the government’s transport expert. The man leading UK transport into the future. Yet all he can do is complain.

 

There lies the nub of the problem. It is an admission of the fact that he has no control over the UK railways. His party, in the John Major years, gave away government influence when it sold the industry. It is a delusion to think you can sell something and still have control over it. If you flog your car, you can’t tell the next owner how fast you’d like him to drive or where you’d like him to park. It has gone. It is no longer yours.

 

And yet that lesson is only now, 18 years after the great train robbery, beginning to dawn on the minister. He can huff and puff and be horrified at what has happened – but he can do nothing about it. Not unless he takes back the franchises when they end and returns rail to public ownership.

 

Why would he, a Tory, do that? For the very reason he says: that rail will become the plaything of the rich if it continues to be the property of private companies. Rich companies or individuals don’t mind forking out £199.50 for the two-hour ride from London to Manchester, or £225.50 for a single journey from Leeds to Bristol. And if they don’t mind paying, the private companies certainly don’t mind taking their money.

 

But the public who elected you, Mr Hammond, don’t see the railways as a toy. They see them as a public service. And it is your duty to provide it.

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