BBC transport article ignores the facts

The BBC recently ran an article on rising rail fares, which unfortunately seems to have been written with the intent of frightening commuters into abandoning rail transport. One of the more egregious passages is the following:

Much of the rolling stock is already old, with some carriages using slam doors rather than electrically operated ones, and trains at times having covered more than five million miles.

This can cause passengers problems, as they sometimes do not understand how to open them.

One railway worker said she had to help a distressed older passenger leave the train, because he did not realise he had to lower the window and turn the handle from the outside to get off.

The problem with that is that the last slam-door stock ran on the mainline rail network in October 2005, an event which the BBC covered. Slam-door trains continued to see limited branch line service until earlier this year, when they were finally withdrawn. The BBC’s assertion that “[m]uch of the rolling stock is already old” is not supported by the fact that there has in fact been a massive infusion of new rolling stock in the past decade, and many older trains have undergone refurbishment to bring them up to modern standards.

In addition, the article treats the rising cost of operating the railways as if it is an inevitable fact, without subjecting the privately-owned, profit-driven train operating companies to any scrutiny. The simple fact is that privatization of rail transport in Britain has not been nearly as successful as is often claimed. One of the cornerstones of the privatization of the British rail network was to be the private management of rail infrastructure through Railtrack. Railtrack became insolvent in 2001, and in 2002 control of the rail infrastructure was transferred to Network Rail. While Network Rail may appear to be privately-owned in the same way that Railtrack is, it was created by and is owned by the government. In London, infrastructure management on the London Underground was privatized and turned over to Tube Lines and Metronet; Metronet became insolvent in 2007, and now both firms have been folded back into London Underground.

Rather than simply assuming that the rising cost of rail transport is a debt which must be borne by either the taxpayers or passengers, and that passengers will be “paying more to be less comfortable”, the BBC had ought consider that it is the train operating companies, and not solely the government, who are responsible for that state of affairs.