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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Network Rail: Will it solve the problems?
The handling of the UK's rail network was handed over to the government's new not-for-profit body on Thursday.
The much maligned Railtrack passed the baton of responsibility for the UK's track, signals and stations to Network Rail for a fee of £500m.
Its task is to restore public confidence in train travel and upgrade the rail infrastructure across Britain.
Former Railtrack chief executive John Armitt will become chief executive at Network Rail.
Do you think Network Rail will solve the problems on Britain's railways? What advice would you offer its chief executive?
This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Beware the "not for profit" ethic, it means that more can be diverted into costs. A charity worker once told me that they could be less efficient and less accountable with this status since the governing bodies tend to be ineffective and chosen by the people who run the charities. Sounds like the Network Rail set-up?
It has to do better than the appalling Railtrack which made a better case for nationalisation than Arthur Scargill ever could!
I guess that since Railtrack, to a large extant, was the problem, the new organisation has a better chance of being the solution.
There is, at least, now one less tier of profit-taking from a system which never made a real profit in the first place.
I like rail travel; I generally prefer to go by train than by car. New rolling stock is more comfortable, station staff are generally helpful, station facilities are good in many places and improving in others. I wish Network Rail the best.
The rail industry should remain in efficient and effective private hands rather than wasteful and politically motivated public ones. Railtrack would have worked if it wasn't for the continual government interference.
Until the rail industry wakes up and stops the internal performance penalty system, Network Rail will bleed to death just like Railtrack. The train companies need to stop blaming and fining each other and work together as one mature industry. Alas, I'm afraid this is a good source of revenue and far easier than actually providing a service.
Look to the future. Put in place a comprehensive education, training and development regime that all parties must buy into and use as part of contract conditions. Keep a sharp eye on the now. Manage, not monitor contracts and their delivery. Make sure that all personnel as well as contractors are qualified and able to do the work required.
If Network Rail is more serious about promoting the railways to the travelling public than its predecessors, perhaps it will question the policy of allowing car makers to advertise on its station premises.
This morning, as often before, at London Victoria station, I saw a sales display with a Fiat Multipla car on the concourse. What kind of a message does that give to rail passengers?
I'll be amazed if we're not here in a few years time discussing the failure of Network Rail and asking what went wrong.
Christopher Crawford, UK
I think the major flaw with the railways lies in the fact that the infrastructure and the rail operators are two separate entities within each area. Only when the operators have ultimate control over their track (e.g. Virgin controlling the trains and the infrastructure within their routes), can we being to see some continuity of effort, continuity of short/medium/long term strategies, a reduction in red tape and common objectives.
It may solve a number of problems, but the rail operators need to cooperate with each other and realise that a customer of one is a customer of all. Many a time I have been stuck in Reading late on a Sunday only to be told by the First Great Western staff there that I am a customer of Virgin Trains so they cannot assist.
Why are we so worried about the railways? The majority of public transport journeys are made by bus. It's only in the South East that rail is even close to the same number of journeys. Spend the money on bus lanes, tramways and planning new routes to take account of where people live and work.
A not-for-profit company is definitely the right thing. The railways are a service and should be run as such, not as a profit-making enterprise.
How can it make a difference? There are still multiple rail companies and rolling stock companies competing to make money. All that has happened is that the ultimate blame for anything that goes wrong will rest with the government and ministers directly. The amount of money not paid out to shareholders is unlikely to somehow magically fix everything that is wrong with the rail network!
I find it difficult to believe that some people on this message board are already complaining about the taxpayer having to foot the bill for the railways. Of course we will. Private finance will go nowhere near such a long term and expensive project as railway infrastructure. At the end of the day, because railways are an essential part of the nation's infrastructure, they cannot be allowed to 'go bust', so subsidy is inevitable. Why don't people just wake up to the fact that lower taxes equals lower investment which equals poorer public services?
If we want good infrastructure we'll have to pay for it. Is this really a radical idea?
The fact that some more of the old "Ex-BR Baggage" from the management has been sent packing is another step in the right direction. But removing the financial incentive to do well was definitely a bad move. There needs to be a complete culture shift away from the "We're a public service, so you're supposed to like us", and the "Well, if it all goes wrong the government will just give us more money" attitude, towards the "How can we do this better?" attitude. I don't see much evidence of this in the new setup.
Why are some people assuming that this is a return to the old inefficiencies of nationalised industries? There are plenty of examples of well-run but not-for-profit organisations in the UK - just look at the charity sector for a start. As long as the new authority is set achievable performance targets (which don't have to include a profit motive) and is properly funded, it CAN be successful. And, let's face it, it can't be any worse than Railtrack. Can it?
Although Railtrack was a monumental failure, railways are an industry that should rightly be in the private sector. The fact is that state-subsidised companies are inefficient and tax-payers will pay over the odds for the service. Why not just split management of the infrastructure between the 25 franchises, bringing the "wheel and track" together. This would improve track maintenance as the franchise in question would be responsible for their own route. Making the infrastructure not-for-profit will not solve anything, the problems with the network are structural and managerial, not financial.
Are we not just creating a spectacle by passing from one name to another. I sure the common traveller is interested in two things, price and punctuality.
It's a step in the right direction, but ultimately, I can't imagine there will be much improvement. Plenty of the new train companies have ordered inappropriate stock, withdrawn main line services from some stations, and downgraded many staff from rail professionals to little more than shop assistants, and the new body has no control over any of this. Until the whole lot is run as one organisation without all this ridiculous fragmentation, I can't see the railways improving.
And be it public or private, it will always be a mess in the UK until we have a complete culture change.
People ask for red tape to be cut, but people also demand 100% safe railways. The two are not compatible. Hopefully Network Rail will find the middle ground.
Confidence will be restored by results. It's results that count. Whether public or privately owned, whether for profit or not, what the public want is more reliable, safer public transport. If it doesn't achieve that then however it is organised doesn't really matter.
The experience shows that a private company isn't the right way for an efficient public services. But a public company is a good idea if it has a lot of money to be able to afford making it work and also if the workers have the same rights.
At Aldridge in the West Midlands we have been promised a rail station for the last four years with outline planning permission. Does this move from Railtrack mean it may be built, or not, I wonder.
Andy W, UK
As a Railtrack shareholder and regular commuter I hope that Network Rail can make progress, but I feel that this may not be possible. Anyone who looks at the management will soon identify previous Railtrack directors with similar roles in this new company. There are going to be 100 'members' who will probably disagree on most things. Unless there is a change in management the company will fail.
As a disabled rail user who travels on trains daily, I, like all commuters, have become increasingly frustrated by the reliability of our railway infrastructure; specifically the usage of buses in lieu of trains when track repairs are carried out. Whilst this may be merely an inconvenience for normal passengers, I can assure you that when you are in a wheelchair and have no legs it means you often get nowhere. Having twice been left behind on the platform, I never managed to get anyone to call me back from Railtrack let alone an apology. Now we have a not-for-profit organisation at the helm I will be expecting more!
My advice would be firstly, to try to prevent politicians (both MPs and local) interfering in the day to day decision making process. If Network Rail is to be a not for profit organisation then it should be run for the benefit of all the people. Its board should not be swayed by the opinions of loud minorities or those seeking to grind a political axe.
Making the company a not-for-profit organisation is a step in the right direction but it is not enough by itself. The organisation needs to be streamlined and cleared of red tape so that it can actually do its job effectively. It also needs to be made clear exactly who is responsible for what so that mistakes can be minimised rather than buried.
Lastly the company also needs enough money to do its job and the freedom to do it well. There is no quick fix solution to the current railway crisis, it will require time, money and good management before improvements are seen by the travelling public. I wish Network Rail better luck than its predecessor as it has a difficult job ahead but I believe it has a fighting chance.
I really hope that they can sort the problems out. But I can't help but think that this is another project that will be like the Dome, and in a month or so I'll be reading on the BBC news web site about requests for more money from us, the taxpayers.
As long as the chief executives, board members etc do not have any say in their annual pay rise Network Rail should be able to regain the confidence of the rail users. But the government still needs to be the one supplying the investment money.
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