The end of rail franchising

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  LuganoPirate 5 Nov 2019
at 13:53
.

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)

  • Bath_VIP
    Participant

    Obviously the political situation is very fluid at the moment so who knows what the outcome will be.

    But I think most of us would agree that the rail franchising system in the UK isn’t fit for purpose anymore. I said a few years ago that franchising really only works when the underlying brand has a reliable reputation and that is not the case with British Rail (as it was when franchising came in in 1994). The question then becomes what replaces it.

    The ideas expressed in this article more or less match what I’ve been saying for quite a few years which is to distinguish between commuter, rural and intercity routes and have different solutions for each i.e.

    Intercity – open access competition
    Rural – tenders run by local authorities
    Commuter – TfL style solution i.e. devolving the power to decide policy to a suitable metropolitan or combined authority.

    See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/10/14/scrapping-useless-rail-franchises-makes-sense-already-making/

    What do you think?


    SPT
    Participant

    Funny how things always go the full circle…

    For all its faults, at the point of privatization, BR worked on the basis of three operating divisions in InterCity, Network South East and Regional Railways.

    Two of the divisions (InterCity and NSE) made money which in theory could well have subsidized the loss maker (Regional Railways)

    But then Tory dogma got in the way and in the rush to complete the last privatization, they insanely tried to introduce “competition” into the railway when the real competition to rail was and remains air, coach and the car. Coupled with the split between track and wheel, the resultant fragmentation has led to rocketing costs and lack of development of the network, especially in England.

    So the “BR” three division model worked. Quite why we then have to retain the fragmentation within each as suggested baffles me as ultimately it will just turn out to be a rearrangement of the furniture with continued sky high costs and no passenger gain…

    Plus ca change

    3 users thanked author for this post.

    SimonS1
    Participant

    In my view it should be a nationalised resource.

    The railways are too fragmented as it is and having community groups or regional authorities pretending to be railway operators won’t work.

    The big losers here will be the foreign (nationalised!) railways who get the franchises and do a crap job whilst generating dividends in the UK to invest in their own infrastructure.

    The big winners post Brexit should be UK manufacturing as there will be no need to play by EU tendering rules which no-one else sticks to.

    Still as Boris may not be about for much longer it may all be up in the air.


    capetonianm
    Participant

    I have always enjoyed travelling by rail, odd as it may sound. That said, I never stood on platforms in the sleet with an Ian Allen Locomotive book, a notebook, and egg sandwiches in my anorak pockets!

    Until a couple of years ago when I was working part time I used to travel all over the UK by rail on long distance services and because I was fortunate enough to travel ‘off peak’ and first class I found the overall standard of the main franchises very good, and particularly good value as by booking early and using a Senior Railcard I was able to get some excellent fares, often well below £100 return from Surrey to, for example, Chester, Newcastle, Exeter, and many other places.

    In that respect I found the main problem with the current system, as opposed to the old ‘BR’ days, to be the multiplicity of fares across and between operators and different booking channels, meaning for example that if my journey started on SW trains, as was usually the case, and crossed to another operator, the fare could be much higher than buying two separate tickets. Sometimes though it was lower and there didn’t seem to be much consistency, and even the ‘split ticketing’ sites sometimes couldn’t match what I could find. It was really only a matter of personal curiosity and satisfaction to find the best fare as whoever I was working for would pick up the tab anyway.

    The whole system must be incredibly confusing for visitors to the UK, who are not only unfamiliar with the concept, but don’t know about the many different booking channels, and then in many cases don’t speak English. An example : our friends’ very smart Austrian au-pair went to the ticket counter at the SWR station and was quoted well over £300 for a return to Edinburgh. She came back to the house in tears as she’d promised to go and visit a friend there. We sat down together and I found the identical journey for £120 which we got down to £80 by buying her a 16-25 railcard, which they hadn’t told her about.

    I am not entirely convinced that full nationalisation is the answer either, but there has to be something in between. As is so often the case, the Swiss seem to have got it right, where a national ‘backbone’ network is operated by SBB/CFF/FFS, with their usually sparkling clean and beautiful trains, and the minor networks feed, and are fed, by the main routes, but the whole thing is synchronised like, dare I say, a Swiss clock.

    France has a good long distance network too, with some trains ‘franchised’ to low cost operators using different brand names, I’ve recently come across Ouigo and Izy, for example, and although they are the same trains, with a couple of extra coaches stuck on, they are not bookable through the same platform, so they have created confusion where none existed. Many of the local and cross country services, which possibly are loss making, are atrocious and inadequate, and maybe there is the argument for franchising – which I see NS in the Netherlands are starting to do on some branch lines.

    Back to the UK, the beginning of the end was the much-maligned, and with good reason, Dr. Beeching closing down the branch lines without taking into consideration the importance they had to rural communities, and in respect of feeding the backbone network.


    Poshgirl58
    Participant

    On the whole, I think Virgin did a good job with the West Coast Main Line. Cross Country is another story, with lack of luggage space and dirty, smelly trains.

    I live in North Birmingham on the Cross City Line, Lichfield Trent Valley-Redditch via Birmingham New Street. Used it three weeks ago, the first time since yet another franchise change. Colours of new company are dark grey and orange, so almost everything that doesn’t move has been painted. The trains, the Hunslet three or six coach model, still have the green seats from when they entered service/changed to previous franchise colours.

    Many years ago, I worked for the local rail franchise, just before it changed to London Midland. The practice seems to be give the company a new name and identity, use expensive contractors to repaint parts of stations and trains, then employ most of the existing staff. It’s too early for judging success or failure, but the local rag contained plenty of comments about the waste of money.

    As for fares, they should be simplified. It’s not helped by the use of apps to buy tickets. The carpark attendant at my local station was recently bemoaning the fact that some apps incorrectly state parking is free if pre-purchasing your train ticket. Just adds to the confusion!


    capetonianm
    Participant

    https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/transport-for-wales-trains-delays-17080033

    Some relevance here, this article gives views on franchising in south Wales. The last time I had to use local trains there they were pretty dire.


    Bath_VIP
    Participant

    SPT makes an interesting about the full circle here.

    I recall back in the 80s thought was given to privatising InterCity alone. I do think that long distance lines can be open access competition but it would need a slot allocator authority with the remit to encourage multiple operators on lines that have the capacity to support to support multiple operators. For most part these are the mainline routes into London plus the long haul routes in and out of Manchester & Birmingham.

    The NSE model has more or less morphed into TfL now though of course trains are not under their direct control. Personally I favour a TfL like model for all the major metropolitan areas in the UK. In most cases there is an existing political body that could be devolved the responsibility for deciding the details e.g. Greater Manchester Combined Authority, West of England Combined Authority, etc. Basically devolve control of their commuter services to these authorities and let them decide how to manage them. A number of these combined authorities are new and have a directly elected mayor who can be accountable for the delivery. I am supportive of further political devolution in any case and local & commuter transport policy is one area that can be devolved to such authorities. Basically these are routes where travel times are an hour or less and start and end at a major city.

    That leaves the regional routes e.g. Cardiff-Portsmouth, Liverpool to Hull. For Scotland and Wales, these can be (and I think already are) devolved to the national parliaments who can decide what to do especially in terms of intra-Wales & intra-Scotland routes. One of the big issues at the moment with these routes is that they are often far too slow and I think they need significant investment to improve capacity and speed e.g. Liverpool to Hull was slated for HS3 at one point. Given the possible need for significant investment, that probably points to a single publicly owned operator to manage all that investment. But private operators should not be precluded from operating these routes and so the open access model should be retained for these routes.


    AMcWhirter
    Participant

    My take on UK rail stems from decades as a London commuter having to tolerate British Rail for several decades.

    The then British Railways Board could not understand that wealthy London commuters (some of whom would have been domestic business travellers) were turned off mainline rail by their poor commuter service … endless delays, cancellations, failed rains, poor communications, uncaring staff etc etc.

    In short it was dreadful … so much so that I avoided all mainline travel by rail as much as I could until the past 15 or so years.

    Little wonder domestic aviation prospered for decades … even before the arrival of LCCs.


    capetonianm
    Participant

    Very good point about the use of ‘apps’ as a further level of complication. I travelled up to Liverpool once with a friend. I had purchased my ticket from the Virgin West Coast website and printed it at home. He had purchased his from an app, I forget which one, and the ticket inspector refused to accept it. Had he purchased the ticket from VWC, he might have stood his ground, but he ended up having to buy another much more expensive ticket.


    Swissdiver
    Participant

    I am not entirely convinced that full nationalisation is the answer either, but there has to be something in between. As is so often the case, the Swiss seem to have got it right, where a national ‘backbone’ network is operated by SBB/CFF/FFS, with their usually sparkling clean and beautiful trains, and the minor networks feed, and are fed, by the main routes, but the whole thing is synchronised like, dare I say, a Swiss clock.

    It is not that simple. But there is some common sense. Long distance journeys can be profitable while rural ones can’t. But the latter represent an essential part of public services. This is the base of the Swiss system. SBB/CFF/FFS have a monopoly on most of the long distance routes, but must provide the whole service (by train or by bus). They also own most of the stations (a federal territory). So they not only make money with the shops and restaurants, but also with some real estate operations (e.g. https://pont-rouge.ch/en/project/). That said, they must also maintain the tracks…

    Zurich is however a particular case since the balance of power is slightly different there as they run the commuter trains on behalf of the city (a bit like TFL).

    This was possible because we sent the EU to hell and refused to open trains to competition (the few operators must work together).

    More generally, a full privatisation is not economically sustainable where public services matter, as non profitable routes would be dropped. And asking municipalities and other local administrations to pay and organise themselves is not efficient. At the end of the day, the only sustainable option is nationalisation. On a side note, I think this also applies to postal service and a few other public services.


    alistairNicoll
    Participant

    of course what everyone forgets in this is that the biggest problem the railways have had both when BR (lack of funding) and now privatised is the department of transport and this is unlikely to change


    canucklad
    Participant

    Little wonder domestic aviation prospered for decades … even before the arrival of LCCs.

    And why they still do …..
    Edinburgh to London should be the equivalent of a TGV route, yet its white elephant time as a criminal amount of money is being spent to save 20 minutes !!
    As far as I know, there are no flights between Birmingham and London.

    The whole system must be incredibly confusing for visitors to the UK, who are not only unfamiliar with the concept, but don’t know about the many different booking channels, and then in many cases don’t speak English.

    Never mind visitors , I went to the ticket machine at Manchester airport, paid for an off peak return to Piccadilly ,and jumped on the train. Conductor made some sort of garbled announcement, good have been Swahili, could have been Esperanto, who knows.
    He checked my ticket and pointed out that it was invalid, and he had warned everybody.
    His arrogance and aggression to the non-English speakers in the carriage was an embarrassment to Northern Rail and more importantly to his fellow citizens


    LuganoPirate
    Participant

    A couple of interesting articles, one questioning Swiss train punctuality and the other on train etiquette. The latter could apply anywhere.

    https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/public-transport-in-numbers_are-swiss-trains-becoming-less-punctual–pricier-and-more-dangerous–/45231238

    https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss-train-etiquette/44854438

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