Thomas the Tank

Are the railways now a metaphor for our incompetent government?

Billions have been spent on HS2, promised as the zero carbon, high speed, rail network of the future. Now it won’t even reach central London and the link to Manchester and beyond may never be built.

This year has seen industrial disputes, cancellations, and too many late and overcrowded trains. The Tories promised competition and better services through privatisation. They’d offer franchises for the best bids and the taxpayer would benefit from a share of profits as the new companies licked our railways into shape. Instead, contracts are rarely honoured while the businesses demand ever bigger bailouts to provide dividends for their often-foreign shareholders, as commuters and taxpayers pick up the bill.

It’s getting harder to squeeze more profit from existing arrangements as passenger numbers decline over rising costs and poor services, so now they intend to cut jobs by closing ticket offices, leaving many stations without staff.

Last week I had an odd encounter at New Street when the ticket barrier suddenly snapped shut as I was attempting to exit. Fortunately, for me no damage was done but I was concerned at what might have happened if it had been a child or elderly person. I was waiting in the queue to report it when I discovered that the women before me had experienced an almost identical incident minutes earlier and she had suffered some injuries. Apparently, it happens quite often and that’s why, for safety reasons, barriers are sometimes left open if there aren’t enough staff to cover them. New smartphone technology could dispense with their need altogether but presumably train companies are reluctant to invest in it.

Our government has bungled the HS2 project and now threatens to saddle us with a hugely expensive white elephant. Their operating model for the existing network is a joke and an albatross around the neck of British taxpayers; and now they want to cut jobs and take risks with safety. No wonder our railways are a mess. It’s no way to run the rail network and no way to run the country.

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