CPS Research Fellow Tony Lodge provides an update to his work on rail competition following his CPS report 'Rail’s Second Chance – putting competition back on track'.
Rail was one of the most contentious of all the Tory privatisations. How would it work? Why split track from train? Who would manage maintenance and regulate the anticipated competition? Why not go back to the old pre-war ‘Big Four’ with the LMS, LNER, GWR and the Southern running their own fiefdoms and maintaining their track?
Twenty years since the Railways Act and most observers accept that the first ten years were the most challenging with a catalogue of appalling safety failures, particularly at Southall (1997) and Hatfield (2000), alongside a distinct lack of any of the much vaunted competition which so appealed to Tories as the Railways Bill was being debated.
Today, there is real progress, at last. In March the CPS published the evidence-based research Rail’s Second Chance – putting competition back on track, which exposed the fact that where non-franchised long distance rail competition had been permitted, (albeit on far too small a scale) and known as ‘open access’ then fares rose more slowly, passengers were happier, more routes and services were available and more people were using the railway therefore delivering higher revenues.
Yesterday the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) seems to have accepted our conclusion in its snazzily titled 815 page ‘Draft determination of Network Rail's outputs and funding for 2014-19’. Buried at page 558 is an important provision which can hopefully help deliver more rail competition and release more private innovation, finance and initiative. It announces that a consultation paper is to be published on increasing railway competition ‘shortly’.
Twenty years since railway privatisation and its seems the Government has realised more competition on the railways is in the interests of the passenger, the industry and the taxpayer. At last the era where most long distance high speed rail franchises face no on-track competition may be coming to an end.
The day of the ‘railopoly’ is hopefully nearing the buffers.
Watch the animated summary of Tony's CPS report: