The rail link between London and Brighton is one of the busiest in the UK, not least because the Gatwick Express trains use the same tracks. It’s also the one with the worst punctuality record in the UK, and there’s some pretty stiff competition for that accolade, I can tell you.
Anyway, the operating company, which I think is Southern Rail, has come up with a wizard wheeze to improve punctuality. They had tried simply increasing official journey times, so the trains would now arrive on time and not late. Alas and alack, this failed to solve the problem, so they put on their thinking (sic) caps again. Here’s what they’re going to do.
They’re going to cut the number of trains. Genius. Instead of getting Network Rail off its bargy inefficient arse and improve the infrastructure, they reduce congestion by lopping the number of trains. Why didn’t anybody think of that before?
Of course, there is a downside here. If you take 38 trains out of the schedules, that equates to about 20,000 seats per day. Southern already has the most severe overcrowding on the rail network. You have to hand it to Southern, they can cock up on a monumental scale, can’t they? They don’t have to worry too much though, since they’ve got a captive audience who don’t have much option but to shell out in excess of 4000 quid a year so they can get to work.
I still think they’re missing a trick. Just run one train a day, and even Southern would be hard pushed to muck that up. Of course, the train would look like the ones you see on the Indian subcontinent, but they’d be on time.
For those of you not familiar with the Machiavellian way that trains operate in the UK, I can only apologise. I’ll try to keep it simple. The rolling stock is leased by the operators. The operators set the timetables and run the trains, or not in the case of Southern. To get the go-ahead to operate, they bid for a franchise, which the Government awards to the company that donates the most to the Tory warchest. But here’s the real killer. The operators don’t own the tracks, stations, signalling, any of the mechanical infrastructure. No, that’s owned by Network Rail, and the operators have to pay handsomely for the privilege of using the bits they need. I do hope that has clarified things.
If you happen to feel that’s an insane way to run a vital part of the economy, don’t blame me. It was Thatcher’s lot who sold off the family silver, including the railways, to a bunch of cityboys.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention. The head of Network Rail, Mark Carne, has racked up over £30,000 in travel expenses this year for using his car. Even he thinks the railways are too bloody unreliable to be trusted to get him somewhere on time. And on top of that he’s the Accounting Officer, who’s accountable to the Government for Network Rail’s stewardship of public funds. I wouldn’t trust him to run a market stall.