Renationalising the UK rail network – a good idea?

Back to Forum

This topic contains 38 replies, has 16 voices, and was last updated by  NTarrant 1 Oct 2015
at 18:16

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 39 total)

  • Anonymous


    I note today that the Labour Party has made a commitment to renationalise the entire railway network in the UK. Both track and train operators will be bought back into government ownership within “a few months of a Labour win” according to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

    The question for business travellers like us is not a political one but a practical one – will it mean a better service ?

    Any views ?


    Yes is the simple answer.

    Ultimately bringing the tangled mess of the railways under 1 command structure would be much better for a service delivery perspective and it will also be much cheaper (Rail privatization means we now spend 4 times more than before privatization). Some of the extra is in extra investment – but a lot has been swallowed in escalating infrastructure costs as everything is outsourced and every layer now has to take its level of profit.

    Also things like the PFI for the new High Speed Trains being built for GWML and ECML are incredibly expensive and poor value for money. (Generally goes for PFI in general – as a country we’re spending £200bn on PFI schemes where the assets are only worth £54bn – make of that what you will but I call it insane).

    So yes – bringing railways back into public ownership will be massively sensible on every level (and can take some of the ideas that privatization that has been good and successful and apply it to the national railway). But sadly Tory political dogma will never see them back it. UK Rail privatization is a hand book the world over for How Not to Privatise something.


    No is the simple answer.

    What will it actually achieve? Absolutely nothing other than add costs to an already heavy cost of running the railway. Currently the TOC’s are no more than franchise owners, they don’t own the track, it is Network Rail which is owned by… Ummm the government. The time tabling is dictated by…. Ummm department for transport. Do the TOC’s have freedom to charge what they like… No they don’t have complete freedom.

    We have far more frequent services than 20 years ago and the levels of passengers travelling are higher than preBeeching. Which despite the fact that privatisation of the railways is a mess and always has been shows that in that mess the operators have provided a service which has attracted more passengers than ever before.

    As for PFI, well that was good old Tony Blair and co that came up with that idea which will cripple the ECML and GWR for many years, just like it has with the new hospitals.

    The left dogma is always that they think the railways will be better off under government control where customers come last and unions come first.

    The cost of nationalisation would be colossal, just goes to show how the looney left set their priorities, rather spend billions on taking control of the railways than using the money to pay the counties debt.

    Privatisation was rushed and should never have been done in the way it was. The way it should have been done IMHO is that it should have been on a regional basis such as Southern, GWR, etc and all stock, stations and track with it.


    I’m no “nationalize everything” person. Many things are better being privatized. But the railways simply isn’t one of them. The structure of the railways now is simply Chaotic at best. Bringing into 1 structure as British Rail would make things massively better – bringing Engineering In House rather than having to use outsourced companies – would make things much cheaper and easier to manage. On the timetabling side of things being 1 company could see massive timetable improvements so we don’t get local connections leaving 2 minutes before an Intercity arrives because it is 2 different companies. It would also reduce pathing conflictions between operators and a common sense approach to services taken with a better all round experience.

    But nationalising the railways as franchises come expire (as Labour propose) won’t add any extra expense at all – so that is a class British Media lie about Corbyn’s plans. If it goes like the old ECML under Government hands would be better off – and the savings can be used to pay down debt or invest in extra rolling stock / rail infrastructure. So win-win.

    Yes railways use has gone right up – but generally that is not because of the TOC’s being massively better. Many extra services are prescribed by the government in the franchise agreements. Sure Chiltern Railways is a massive success as a privatized TOC (ironically the only MBO by the BR management team in the initial years of privatization – just what happens when you get proper Railway people in charge – and luckily maintained that ethos up to now).

    Yes PFI started under the Tories pre- Blair – but Brown & Blair took it to a whole new level and still no one has stopped. Horrendous but very much part of the culture and problem we have debt – we don’t have to worry until tomorrow. Problem is Tomorrow will one day be Today. Emblematic of GBR approach to money as a whole.


    Not sure the newly elected leader has set out anywhere what he thinks the advantages of renationalising the railways would be. He is simply putting it forward as one of his great new ideas, as it sits firmly in the heartland of socialist thinking, ie the state controlling things is a good idea because it stops the nasty capitalists from cashing in, but doesn’t come with anything which you could call a plan. It only has meaning if the man on the Clapham omnibus, forgive me mixing metaphors, sees an improvement in the service/value he receives which, of course, he won’t.


    Well said esselle.

    Tim – whilst I agree the structure of the railways today is chaotic, under the old BR it had far too many people and too beurocratic. It was also chaotic. I know what Corbyn has suggested but it will take years to achieve.

    The reason Chiltern has been successful is because it was the only TOC given 20 year franchise, so it has been able to invest and see a return on investment. Giving out 5 years or less will push up prices as it has done.

    The majority of timetable improvements have been at the request of the TOC’s which DfT have either sanctioned or blocked


    I well recall that bastion of hard-left thinking and writing (otherwise known as the Financial Times) doing a series of articles back in the mid-1990s, detailing just how Major’s privatisation of the railways had taken place and the consequences for the rail industry, the rail supply industry, the passengers and the vast new feeding frenzy around the Office of Rail Regulation etc.

    I recall the point being made that the terms on offer to the City of London were so generous, it was a latter day version of Nye Bevan’s “stuffing money down their throats” to make doctors sign up to the NHS back in the late 1940s, except that this time it was taxpayers cash for the finance industry. The terms on offer to those setting up the train leasing companies (the so-called ROSCOs) were so generous that there was a queue down the block and back again of institutions seeking to get their hands on these licences to mint money.

    Having corresponded with a Tory junior minister at the Dept of Transport, he sternly rebuked me for my suggestion that the privatisation was a piece of ideologically driven malice. He then lectured me that privatisation would (a) save the taxpayer a fortune as the central government subsidy was progressively removed and (b) it would unleash a wave of entrepreneurial flair across the railways that had, hitherto, been smothered by state ownership.

    Sadly, I have mislaid the letter with the Department of Transport letter head because I would have loved to post it online for all to read the delusional ravings of an ideologically motivated political hooligan. The essential truth is that rather than reduce the level of state spending on the railways, this increased to levels never experienced during public ownership. The Tories managed, within a few years, to destroy almost all of the UK’s railway design and manufacturing capacity owing to the hiatus in orders that followed privatisation: no orders, no cash, no company. The model of privatisation was so complicated that no-one anywhere in the world has come within a million miles of copying it. The only real growth area around the railways in the mid-1990s was not in improving the network or delivering better services, it was around arguing the toss over who was responsible for delays and who would pay the fines to the rail regulator. A lawyer’s charter and another licence to mint money.

    And we haven’t even looked, yet, at just what a catastrophe Railtrack was. Their principal motivation was not in running the railways, it was in acting as a property developer. So that was where they concentrated their efforts with the maintenance of the permanent way subbed out to contractors whose principal concern was in what cash they could extract out the process. The (almost) inevitable result was that passengers paid, literally, with their lives with a series of rail crashes directly related to poor maintenance procedures and/or the failure to spot poor signalling practices.

    Yes, our railways are now much better than prior to privatisation but the simple, unarguable truth, is that this has come as a result of levels of taxpayer subsidy (now being racheted down – to the immense chagrin of Tory voters in the ‘burbs and the shires) that the British Railways Board could only have dreamed of. For all the talk of efficiency and entrepreneurialism post-privatisation, the most recent national study showed a cost structure that has gone from being one of the leanest (under public ownership) to being one of the most costly and inefficient in Europe after two decades of private monopoly ownership. What an achievement.

    Personally, I would have loved to have seen the subsequent Bliar LabLiar administration surcharge each and every Tory MP who voted through this ideological vandalism for the losses to the taxpayer from the theft and misappropriation of taxpayer-owned assets. The resulting bankrupting of large parts and many individuals within the Tory party would have taught these “beggars on horseback” (to use a term much loved by my late Tory county councillor father) a lesson that they would never have forgotten. Very possibly, we would now have a Tory party that understood humility and decency rather than overweening arrogance, hubris and imperial overreach.

    If anyone chooses to pick an argument with me over my comments, I would strongly suggest that you make a better fist of explaining yourself than the drivel penned by that Tory boy in the mid-90s. And BTW, I would be entirely delighted to see Jezza fall flat on his face – rail re-nationalisation or no rail re-nationalisation.

    Don’t believe me, then try:


    AnthonyDunn, what a well written, interesting, at times amusing, and accurate post. My congratulations to you sir.


    Of course we can point to the passenger increase and say “privatization is a good thing” – but many believe that the increase in passengers has been stifled by privatization.

    BR would have worked wonders with the money now thrown at the railways. People forget that their “inefficiency” brought InterCity to profit! Something that seems to evade TOCs.

    And when things go wrong, the railway of today is appalling. Customer service is severely lacking, with the mantra “It is the passengers responsibility…” being a sticking plaster of many woes.

    Virgin Trains have empty services leaving Euston because of their absurd pricing policies.
    The flagship East Coast route – serving some of the UKs biggest cities, is now on to it’s fourth franchise as both GNER and National Express threw in the towel. It took the Directly Operated Railways to fix it.

    But the point does stand – the DoT has massive influence on the TOCs, right down to minor details in the timetable or if a train has a trolley service or not. This isn’t ‘minimum service’ stuff, this is when an operator wants to add extra trains, or carriages, they can only do so with DoTs permission. For a “private” industry, that’s not right.

    As usual in the UK, we have a botched up job somehow working.
    We want our railways to be a public service AND we want them to be profitable AND we don’t want to pay more AND we want motivated staff.

    But then, what public service became better when privatized? Can you name one?


    Some interesting views there.

    For those who support government owning railways why do you think it will be better than private ownership ? I am not trying to make a political point, I am unable to understand why railways are better if owned by the State when airlines, cars, taxis, ships and other forms of transport are palpably not.

    I live in a country with a State owned rail system (Belgium) and it’s rubbish. Many of the specialist press here talk of following the UK and privatising B-Rail, this has the support of passenger groups. Only the rail unions are opposed.

    I wonder why you think the UK would be better with one as well.


    Why is public better than private or vice versa – its pretty obvious the key is quality of management.

    No reason a priori to think private management is better (just more expensive) – CEO’s in major companies have not been doing too well recently – Volkswagen & Murdock empire bosses claiming to be unaware of their underlings misdoing & CEO’s in Big Pharma not only mislead with their so-called research but also in presentation of accounts (see last Saturday FT).

    In principle with major infrastructure I’d prefer national ownership as any profits would return to the taxpayer. In any case many PPI have taxpayer subsidy. The major problem (also existing with privatisation) will always be out of control unions demanding a feather bed (e.g. as in the London Tube) and I have no idea how that can be dealt with – maybe JC will have an answer?


    As someone who uses the railways frequently……..

    Why not? …… They surely can’t get any worse?

    Currently they are a total shambles. And paying top bucks for the pleasure of “surviving” my journeys !!!


    I rarely use the railway in the UK with the exception of the Eurostar however I did take a journey earlier this year from London to Leeds and found the experience pretty unpleasant however in defence of the UK rail system I should say that I everyday rail travel awful in most countries.

    Outside of TGV type services the typical city to city commuter services are poor in every country I have used the trains.

    Perhaps nobody is capable of providing a clean, reliable, reasonably priced, comfortable rail service ?


    I would go for nationalisation as well. It doesn’t need to cost a fortune if done over time.

    I think the bit about “attracting passengers” is a bit of a myth. Most of the operators have monopolies or near monopolies so there is no real choice. If you want to do somewhere you have to grin and bear it.

    Nationalisation would ensure that the money currently extracted in profits is reinvested in our railways rather than into the networks of the foreign state industries who seem to own half our infrastructure.

    Plus when it comes to the annual Christmas engineering shambles it’s not as BR could do any worse….

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 39 total)
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below