Jan 2011 - An inefficient railway pays dividends

01 June 2013

Transport minister Philip Hammond says the coalition government has showed some commitment to rail transport. So far, it has. I even have some sympathy for his desire for ‘a relentless drive for efficiency on the part of the industry’, although personally I’d skip the ‘relentless’.

ASLEF isn’t opposed to efficiency. But I’m concerned that the minister and our union have different ideas about what ‘efficiency’ means.

For us, an efficient railway is one that offers reliable and safe travel to all parts of the country at a reasonable cost. I have the sneaking suspicion, however, that the government’s ideal is a railway run on a shoe-string and a prayer, but which makes large profits for private shareholders.

The interim report of the ‘value for money’ rail review that Sir Roy McNulty is carrying out for the government did little to allay my suspicions. The truth is, the government doesn’t know how to run a railway. We would all be better served if it simply employed people who do.

The first point in Sir Roy’s report that the minister highlighted was something of a waste of ink in these recycling times. It says ‘the railway is costing more than it used to and more than it ought to. Greater efficiency would realise savings of £600 million to £1,000 million per annum by 2018-19 without cutting services or lowering quality’.

I see something of a contradiction here. You don’t need to be an Old Etonian to understand that if you spend less, you get less. How can the railway not be adversely affected if a billion pounds a year is lifted from the till?

And there is the point that the railway costs more every year. Well, yes, that’s true. But the major reason is that, post privatisation, millions of pounds are now being taken out of the industry each year to pay dividends to private shareholders.

Surely it’s inefficient to pay out railway funds to people who do nothing to earn it?

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