Sunday, March 01, 2009

Private Parts

With all the coverage of the the proposed part-privatisation of the Royal Mail (a potentially prickly purpose) I find myself reflecting on the state of the railways a few years after that particular controversy. Now whilst I am certainly not in favour of large-scale privatisation of public services (the most profitable does not always equate to the best service) it is only fair to observe that privatisation has not meant the end of rail transport as we know it, led to less reliable services or stranded passengers. In fact, if anything things have got better. Punctuality has improved, rolling stock has been updated, and on intercity routes the food has undeniably got better.

I don't know whether or not the derailments and crashes of recent years were down to the greedy fat cat businessmen putting profit before passengers and not maintaining the lines properly (as the media liked to portray it at the time) or to long-standing neglect and systemic failure by successive governments (as slightly more grown-up commentators put it at the same time). I suspect it's a bit like the current furore over Sir Fred's pension, being whipped up by vote-hungry politicians and sales-hungry journos, whilst RBS's big-money sponsorship of the Six Nations goes unmentioned, presumably because the rugby draws large crowds and sells plenty of papers.

I do, however, know that the trains on my line are hardly ever more than five minutes late, that over-crowding has eased (at least a little) in the past year (for which I personally am happy to pay a bit extra on my fare) and that whenever there are changes to the timetable, the services or anything else that I need to know about, it is publicised via the web site, SMS, leaflets - genuine multimedia stuff. I can't see that happening under British Rail.

I know I sound like an unalloyed capitalist, but I go back to something Charles Handy once said (and if you don't know who he is, look it up) - the strength of public sector organisations is policy-making, the strength of private-sector companies is implementation. So surely there must be a case for some kind of partnership?

My, my. What a serious post. I think I need to finish on some kind of joke.

What did the signal say to the train?

"Don't look now, I'm changing."


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