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The problem with UK trains... watch

  • View Poll Results: What should the DfT do to improve rail services and reduce overcrowding on trains?
    Devolve more control to private companies for longer to promote competition
    Nationalise the railways to have full control
    Leave things how they are

    • Thread Starter

    ...is that they don't know whether they're privately or publicly owned.

    After Jeremy Corbyn's little fiasco with Virgin Trains, lots of people have (quite rightly) said that regardless of whether or not there were empty seats, his point still stands. I, for one, agree, having been on a packed train on many occasions.

    <side-note>If you're on a packed train at the weekend, upgrade to first class; it's predominantly used by business travellers, so many companies offer upgrades for ~£5, and you also get free drinks!</side-note>

    The primary problem, I think, is that this is an industry over which the government has huge levels of control, but yet it is technically, but not really, privately owned.

    Each part of the network is franchised out to a Train Operating Company (TOC) for a period of at least seven years. This is done competitively, and was brought into the spotlight in 2012 when the government gave the West Coast franchise to FirstGroup - who basically offered the most money, but had a terrible track record with the Great Western Railway- taking it from VirginTrains, before back-tracking on their decision.

    Open Access Operators are not franchised, rather purchasing slots from the network operator - the Grand Central Railway, Eurostar, and Heathrow Express are examples of these.

    Other than that, there is very limited competition for the operators. Whilst there are some overlaps between them, they are for the most-part free to do whatever they like. For what is supposed to be a privatised rail network, this is not much good - capitalism only really creates returns for the general public in the case of competition, and it's the reason that technological advancement comes about in times of war.

    Because they might lose the franchise seven years after they got it, companies have little incentive to make huge investments, and pretty much everything has to come from the government, which takes quite some time, and means we're lagging behind internationally.

    So when you make a complaint about the train being overcrowded, nothing happens because the company has absolutely no incentive to do anything, and also because they would probably lose money by doing so. If the companies had competition, perhaps they'd be more inclined to improve their service.

    What is the way forwards, and why? Discuss!
    The reason that the companies cannot just "put another carriage on the back" is because most trains are now EMUs or DMUs - Electric Multiple Units and Diesel Multiple Units, which have engines under every carriage rather than just one at the front. Previously, the only obstacle would be adding another carriage, but now the whole train would have to be taken off to be connected to the extra carriage, not to mention the fact that a carriage would have to be taken from another train. It's why on really busy routes such as London-Brighton, there are two trains connected nose-to-nose, rather than just a long train of carriages.
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