Update: this originally was posted on 2 September. One month on, the award of the franchise to FirstGroup has been overturned.
A side-discussion developed in a recent HP thread about the false economy of doctrinal privatization of British rail providers in which I found myself agreeing with Benji. I prefer not to dwell on this discombobulating experience for too long, so will focus on Richard Branson’s efforts to overturn the decision to revoke his company’s franchise of the West Coast Main Line to FirstGroup.
Branson, like Steve Jobs, undoubtedly is one of the good 1%, leading to calls from Labour for a delay in signing-off the change and then Parliamentary review. Even the occasional Conservative MP has voiced non-committal support for Branson.
Although reasons not to be nostalgic for Branson were given by BBC News, it is undeniable that his control of WCML is both profitable and enjoys popular support of passengers. The FirstGroup bid, on the other hand, was based around its prediction of an 11% growth which it – or, more accurately, the passengers and wider public – hopes will not be as overly optimistic as GNER‘s for the East Coast Main Line in 2005. The next year, the franchise was terminated and control passed to the Government before being awarded to NationalExpress.
In this country, private train operators enjoy a captive and often highly lucrative monopolies. The Daily Telegraph reports that as fares continue to rise, traveling by air will become cheaper than the equivalent journey on more of the most popular routes.
My own experience with FirstGroup is their ownership of ScotRail on the minor and unsought after Inverness-Thurso/Wick line which continues to be single track and offering speeds and potential or unforeseen delays little better than when it was completed by 1874.
On-train heating is a major source of complaints, with one of the explanations being given is that it kicks-in when the train exceeds a certain speed: a speed which was found to exceed the capabilities of much of the line.