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Last Updated: Friday, 16 July, 2004, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Will railway reforms make a difference?
First Great Western train
The government has confirmed that it's taking back overall control of the railways and scrapping the Strategic Rail Authority, just four years after it was created.

The Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has told the Commons that many of the SRA's powers being transferred to his department.

You put your questions to Stewart Francis, Chairman, Rail Passengers Council in an interactive forum

Responsibility for timetabling and punctuality will be taken over by Network Rail - the non-profit-making organisation set up by the government to replace Railtrack.

Mr Darling claims that under the present system there are too many organisations involved in running trains.

Can the Government control the railways effectively? Will the changes make a difference? What should be done to improve Britain's railways?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

This topic was suggested by Ron C, UK:
What exactly will the rail system shake-up achieve?

Ken Livingstone's Mayoral administration seems to have delivered a significant increase in the quality and quantity of key areas of the capital's public transport. He should certainly be given the opportunity to administer London's over ground commuter network and apply the same joined-up thinking to the whole infrastructure.
John Beaumont, London, UK

Besides spending money, please tell me one thing that the government does do well?
M Bowman, Bromley

With rail subsidies running at around 40p per passenger mile, can this country really afford the luxury of railways any longer?
Peter, Bristol, UK

Go and ask the Japanese rail companies how they manage to run an efficient service.
Dave Jowett, UK

The main issue from a passenger point of view is the absurd number of tickets available, and when these tickets are and aren't valid. Simplifying the ticket structure would be a good step forward!
Adrian Cooper, Bath, UK

We frankly never gave enough time for private ownership to work. Old Nationalised British Rail was a nightmare, I am amazed that people have a romantic view of it!
F Walton, Oxford

Why doesn't the person in charge of their system talk to the person in charge of our system?
David, London

The Swiss have a good system. Why doesn't the person in charge of their system talk to the person in charge of our system? I know why not we don't have anyone in charge and still don't! The good thing is that as the government is now in charge they will probably able to convince that the train is on time even when it isn't.
David, London, UK

About time, the government should have done this ages ago. Our rail network is simply a laughing stock.
George Nipah, London, England

I believe there should be one controlling railway authority. We are a too small a country to have it split up and the result is Tower of Babel management. Geographical areas, large enough to be viable, could then still be franchised out to train operators.
Keith L, Rayleigh England

Once again the half-wits of Britain complain about how much better Europe's railways are compared to ours without realising how much tax the Europeans pay to get their efficient and "cheap" services.
Peter, Nottingham, UK

Renationalise it and get one company called British Rail to do everything. Properly fund it. Nothing else will do.
Stephen, South Wales

Have I been asleep for 60 years? Did the Government have to take over the railways once before because private enterprise couldn't do the job? And how about an integrated and nationwide transport policy to cover not only rail but road, air and sea, too?
Martin, Northern England

Certainly getting rid of the SRA is a good start. They have done nothing but hold the train operating companies from being able to make a difference. But we really need to go much further and allow the train operating companies to maintain and run the signals and tracks, and allow them to set their own timetables. The service is good now, but would be even better if the TOCs had more control.
Lee Bumstead, Farnborough, Hampshire

For those who advocate a return to British Rail let me say this: It was thanks to BR and the subsequent lack of public funds that has got us to the position we are in today. Had nationalisation not have taken place after WW2 I believe that today we would have the best network in the world. It is no good blaming post war governments, Labour or Conservative for today's problems. The minute the state starts interfering where market forces could take their course you end up with a situation like this. My solution: The whole thing should be left to the private sector to resolve the crisis. Given time this will work. If you want an example of this then look no further than British Airways.
Ed, UK

Sorting out the railways requires political courage to stay the course
A Hetherington, Bristol UK
Sorting out the railways requires political courage to stay the course, and courage to let professionals actually run the railways not government departments. Adequate and consistent funding, but that goes for many things. A safety policy driven by the reality that rail is far safer than a car and should be supported with rational policy not knee jerk reaction to a single event. Ten people a day dying as a result of cars does not match up to a few hundred a year on rail. Finally use the French system of funding transport in the conurbations. Political courage again.
A Hetherington, Bristol UK

As long as the railways are under private ownership, their motive will be increased short term profit for investors and shareholders, hence will never attract proper public funding and investment. If local and national politicians have true intent to resolve road congestion etc. then the fees from road tolls, town and city parking should be invested in a public transport system that is a viable and realistic competitor to the car.
David, Livingston, Scotland

I have long been an outspoken critic of the railway organisation in the UK having been a railway engineer for 36 years. It is time that the institution scrapped the SRA, and paid decent wages to staff retained by the railway. The "consultant" atmosphere in the railway is crippling the finances, and the licensing imposed on technical workers is severely impacting the ability of people to specialise in many areas simultaneously, and thus hampering flexibility and productivity. The railway needs to have a core of well versed, well paid and highly motivated people, not the fragmented, generally ill-advised teams of contractors currently sucking the lifeblood out of a previously great institution.
Martin, Zurich, Switzerland

Darling's reforms must move at least a little in the right direction otherwise let's just build more motorways and airports with the huge investment required for the railways.
John, Manchester, UK

Trains are less environmentally friendly per passenger mile than cars and cost billions of pounds more to run. It's time to give up on the railways and turn them all into motorways.
Alex Roebuck, Guildford, England

Alex Roebuck: how can he say an electric train costing 1p per passenger mile going into Waterloo is more costly and less environmentally friendly than 1,000 internal combustion engines clogging the roads into London is beyond me. Trains are a vital service on which depends the future of our economy. Renationalise it, stop faffing about, privatisation has been a complete failure.
Andy McCormick, Basingstoke, England

We now have an industry that is more concerned with presenting an image and profits
Ron, Middlesbrough .UK

I worked for British Rail many years ago, this was when BR maintained its track and services. It may not have been the most image dependent industry but the trains ran on time, you could get a platform porter to help with heavy items, if you had a connection that was listed the train waited. We now have an industry that is more concerned with presenting an image and profits. Give the job to the people that understand and love the railways - The Railworkers.
Ron, Middlesbrough .UK

The government is the problem, not the solution. They "privatised" the railways but in reality ran them from Whitehall with an army of regulators. If they want to see decent railways get out the way and let people get on with their jobs.
Dave, Glasgow

Time to bring in people who have worked in a successful railway network from across the world. Let them have a go with and keep the government out of it. Not much point in having government input when they have no idea of any transport policy.
Clive, Dartford, Kent

I sincerely hope so - I want Britain to have a rail network to rival the French or Germans, so I at least have an option of travelling without creating tonne upon tonne of CO2.
Andrew, Leighton Buzzard, UK

I am a British national living in Catalonia Spain. I visit Britain regularly. Until about 5 years ago I used to use the railways until I got more than fed up. I used the system when I lived in Britain 15 years ago and was mostly satisfied.
Vivien Greatorex-Davies, Girona, Spain

Why doesn't one company, run the stations & trains, sell the tickets, maintain the tracks and be responsible for everything.....I know let's call it British Rail!
Neil Wickham, Milton Keynes England

There needs to be a more robust approach to rail franchises. Train operating companies should lose their franchises if they fail to meet punctuality targets or are consistently overcrowded. The existing system of fines lacks sufficient teeth to make them change their ways.
Given that the whole system is funded by the taxpayer, it seems a pity not to consider re-nationalisation. Then any operating profits could be invested in the railways rather than handed over to a small number of shareholders. I hope the Government finally gets to grip with the trains. Then, perhaps, they could turn their attention to the buses, which are even worse.
David Anderson, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Renationalise the service - anything short of this is a fudge
Neil Williams, Milton Keynes, UK
Renationalise the service - anything short of this is a fudge, and will be regretted in years to come.
Neil Williams, Milton Keynes, UK

The government doesn't exactly have an enviable track record of running large scale projects on time or on budget. I predict the fares will rise, the service will become less comfortable and less frequent while more and more armies of civil servants are hired to oversee the process. In the meantime we'll all be offered warm words of comfort that things have never been so good.
John B, UK

Lets do it properly and sort out pricing control too - example I can pay 15 for a return to London from Berkshire (150 miles total), yet pay 3.10 for a return to the next station (14 miles total). Just what is going on?
John, Berkshire & London, UK

What is it the stats now show Trains are more polluting than cars, plus they are expensive and if you don't live near to a station they are also inconvenient. So why bother - rip up the tracks and start laying tarmac.
Patrick Weightman, Leicester

Is it too late? I cannot see what will get drivers back onto trains. Looking for a train from Swindon to Newbury this weekend. Two of us 70 return plus parking / taxis, journey time one hour plus travel at either end. Just to get 30 miles away! Car will be 40 mins plus parking at one end only. Compared with Spanish railways - TALGO from Madrid to Bilbao, 260 miles? 80 return for two of us! Coach to Newbury from Swindon 73.00 for two return plus journey time of 3.5 hours (and you cannot get the return journey done in one day - I suppose I could cycle there in that time. Local bus enquiries said it would be 'tricky and protracted' and could not give times. So car it is, door to door, warm, dry, seats, privacy.......
Bill Crowley, Swindon, UK

The only time the railways will ever provide a proper service is when they are properly renationalised. They cannot be run at a profit, and a proper service has to be paid for. Currently we have the worst of both systems.
Mark Wilkie, Wirral, England

It appears we are having a railway reform every six months or so, and yet nothing changes! There are I feel only two sensible options. Either we go back to a state owned (but not controlled) railway, run by railwaymen, or if privatisation must continue, we should give the companies far longer franchises so that they can invest properly. Either way keep the army of politicians, consultants and quangos well away from our trains!
Steve, Liverpool, UK

Regardless of whatever is said or done, we will end up with a train service like in India, with young hard up workers clinging on to the top and sides just to get to work in rush hour, or perhaps 'pushers' will be employed to shove us all on.
Hannah, London

The rural rail services get worse month after month - they now openly admit they have no rolling stock for the schedules. There's no way the service can recover in private hands.
JDE, Exmouth, Devon


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