Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (8th March 2012) said that the new plans unveiled by the coalition government could mean high fares for passengers and a poorer service – and that one recommendation could lead to local line closures.
Tom said “the plans are high on rhetoric but lack substance. Amazingly they still seem to believe that ‘market mechanisms’ in themselves could save billions of pounds across the UK.
I predict that this is doomed to fail. The private sector, with an obligation to big shareholders, either resists taking on risk or prices it at a very high rate. This would surely be reflected in franchise bids. Trying to get train operators to share this risk is simply unobtainable.
The result will be that the costs will end up being borne by both rail passengers and by railway workers. Passengers, it seems, will be facing higher fares, whilst there is talk of thousands of rail jobs going, with all the implications this has for travel safety.
One specific recommendation made by ministers looks quite dangerous. They talk of train operating companies being given ‘greater freedom’ in the drawing up of franchise proposals. I fear that this means that many train companies might use this loophole to try to withdraw altogether from more lightly used branch line services – and we have a lot of these in this region. In the past routes such as from Middlesbrough to Whitby and from Darlington to Bishop Auckland were are risk and we could see this risk reappear – especially as local rail operator Northern Rail are coming up to their franchise renewal.
At the end of the day this is just a repeat of Dr Beeching. He, like Roy McNulty, who drew up this latest strategy, is not a professional railwayman. He, like his forbear from the 1960’s just operates on a theoretical basis, seeing the regulation of railways as similar to regulating financial services, electricity or water, something that is a million miles from the truth. This is a repeat of Beeching and we must oppose it if we want to keep a proper railway in being.”