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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Who should run the railway system?
Railway ownership
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers has promised to present an interim report into what caused the train crash at Potters Bar station "within the next few days".

Preliminary findings suggest that the train was derailed by the failure of a set of points.

Railtrack executives say that the points had been checked and found to be in good order just a week before the crash.

But even though the preliminary investigation has not yet been concluded, some experts are blaming Railtrack for failing to maintain the track properly.

Railtrack contracts out about 85% of its work to private companies, and the investigation into the Hatfield crash of 2000 revealed that lines of communication between Railtrack and contractors Balfour Beatty and Jarvis Fastline were not clear.

Who should be running Britain's railway system?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

There can be no doubt about it in my mind - the railways should be run under nationalisation. The government are accountable to us (sometimes) and one thing they will do less of is go after profits before all else. The franchises are unaccountable to anyone in that they can get away with anything before they improve services, and as a result trains are cancelled, dirty and their train staff at times visually unmotivated, yet their top bosses make a nice profit, thank you very much.
Andy, Nottm., UK

Why is there no report about the Chinese victims in the crash? Liu was such a beautiful and popular TV presenter with hundreds of millions of viewers in China.
Bing , China

Railtrack needs to employ is own maintenance crews

Jo, UK
Railtrack needs to employ is own maintenance crews. That way, the subsidies given are not diluted as they are when they go to subcontracted companies who are also public companies and have to show profits to their shareholders. It is obvious that the best use of this money is not being made and if corners can be cut to make a ?, they will be. By scrapping this indirect labour and returning to direct labour, there will be more control of safety/maintenance budgets and there will only be one accountable body, rather than which contractor was where. Also, I am aware of instances where faulty rail, circa 1970s, was replaced with tested rail 10 yrs older - it may be safe when laid, but how long can a 40 year piece of rail last?
Jo, UK

Someone who can tell one end of a train from another would be a good start.
Pete Hazell, UK

The British rail system has to be run by the government if it is to be an efficient public service. I have never really understood why it is not possible for a government department to be run as a business. All it would take is for professional people to be employed in a professional manner, after removing all the bureaucratic restraints, to enable them to conduct their business they way that it should be conducted. To achieve an efficient rail system there needs to be a massive investment. Private industry will not inject that kind of money into a system where they have very little control. It can only come from the government.
PhilT, Cornishman in Oman

Yes, I do believe that the British railway system should be renationalised. The current system seems to be a case of 'too many cooks spoil the broth'. The high cost structure created by privatisation, with 100+ different companies, all trying to make a profit has resulted in a railway system that costs the taxpayer more to run than British Rail did. Yes, British Rail had its faults, but it should be noted that prior to privatisation, BR was the most cost-efficient railway system in Europe. Privatisation has resulted in a lot of new trains, but BR was doing pretty well in that regard in its last ten years or so; BR modernised the Chiltern line and supplied new trains for that route in the early 1990s. If BR still existed today, and was receiving the level of subsidy that the privatised system gets, we'd be getting even more new trains and the West Coast mainline upgrading would probably be finished. As for safety, I don't believe the railway system is significantly less safe than it was under BR. Accidents do happen from time to time, and it must be remembered that the railways are still much safer than the roads.
Sam Margerison, Australia

It distresses me greatly that the British Rail System has been allowed to degenerate the way it has

Michael Lang, New Zealand
As an expat it distresses me greatly that the British Rail System has been allowed to degenerate the way it has. Take a look at the Continent for a view on Railways and their relationship with social policy.
Michael Lang, New Zealand

With competition and free markets go bankruptcies and inevitable market shake-outs from time to time. This is healthy for a vibrant evolving economy. Japan has been entrenched in recession for 10 years because it fails to allow this restructuring. It stands to reason that critical national infrastructure (e.g. rail, electricity, water, gas, telephone) should not be subject to usual competitive forces but instead they should be run as efficient national monopolies. Otherwise ridiculous duplication arises (many squabbling train operation companies, many utilities digging up the same roads more than once etc). Such is the price we now pay for past privatisation and competition dogma.
Brad Thomas, UK

From looking at another Talking Point, I have had an idea. We claim we have a huge influx of immigrants costing us millions. Why not make people earn the right to live in Britain. Instead of stopping them working, how about 2 years hard graft rebuilding railways to prove you want to be British.
Chris R, UK

Ok fair enough, when we had a nationalised rail service if wasn't perfect by any means. But what is the point in it being private when the Secretary of State can come along and put it into administration whenever he feels like it? Nationalise them now. Lets not get frightened by it and just do it. The Secretary of State will have to make it a success then because he will have both responsibility and control and not the stupid situation we have now.
John Rodgers, England

SRA chief Richard Bowker boasted recently on 5 Live that Britain's privatised railways run "17,500 trains a day, of which 80% arrive within 5 minutes". The BR 1977 Annual Report states that "nearly 18,000 trains run each day of which 80% arrive on time, 93% within 5 minutes". Train Operating Companies insist on padding out schedules with so-called 'charter time' prior to arrival at final destination stations, meaning that some trains from Paddington can be 25 minutes late at Exeter but showing as 'On Time' (within 10 minutes) at Penzance. What a long way we have come in 25 years!
Bob, UK

The problem seems to be too much fragmentation of the system, and very little accountability

Phil W, UK
The problem seems to be too much fragmentation of the system, and very little accountability. Integrate the rail network; if this means re-nationalisation, then we should face up to this and get on with it.
Phil W, UK

All those people who, on the grounds of safety, wish to see a return to the good old days of British Rail should take a look at the fatality statistics on the railways since the war. In the 90's some 75 people died in total, in the 80s, roughly the same, in the 70s about 100, in the 60s about 150 and, in the 50s a massive 300. Year on year, with minor statistical blips caused by significant crashes, the railways have become more safe. The real difference is that we now live in an age of greater and more intense reporting and analysis in the media and, dare I say it, a blame and compensation culture. So, come on, wake up and look at the facts. We might have a railway system that is under resourced and a poor service provider but, to be blunt, it is killing fewer people than British Rail.
Mike, UK

Mike, UK, rightly points out that the overall trend in rail accident fatalities has been downward since the 1950's, but fails to point out that back then the rail network was much bigger (by thousands of miles in fact) and that the railways, rather than the roads, were the primary means of transport for much of the population. Rail travel is basically safe - infinitely more so than travelling by car - but there is no way round the fact that the profit-motivated private companies have dispensed with operating procedures that were proven by BR, and over many decades, to enhance safety.
Paul , UK

What's been happening in the past few years is failure of management. Governments aren't any better at managing railways than private companies are. Germany and the US have both had horrific accidents with great loss of life. This is a management issue, and posing it as an ownership issue simply rigs the question.
Jon Livesey, USA

My memory of nationalised companies is inefficiency and increasing subsidisation by the tax payer

John Crowther, UK
The immediate desire to re-nationalise the railways after the tragic accidents of the last few years is understandable. However nationalising a company will not in itself make the system safer. What is needed is more money but that means more tax and/or higher fares. This in turn will drive more people to use their cars. Yes, something needs to be done but let's take stock before rushing into renationalisation. Final point, my memory of nationalised companies is inefficiency and increasing subsidisation by the tax payer - the customer wasn't happy nor was the taxpayer.
John Crowther, UK

As a track engineer, I would like to see one single entity, preferably a non profit making company, in charge of railway maintenance and renewal. This would help prevent some of the utter confusion of the current climate. This company, under the banner of Railtrack or not, should be solely responsible for the state of the track throughout the UK and be answerable to the government. This would also solve the problem of wage parity for track workers. As it is now, skilled workers get better wage offers working for sub-contractors and are not encouraged to stay in one area or division of the railway, thereby increasing skills shortages and local knowledge/experience in certain areas. The idea that the entire railway could be re-nationalised is probably unrealistic; to do a u-turn in the short term would confuse matters more, but a more efficient and safer solution can and should be met.
Danny, UK

Maybe the railways should consider implementing some of the policies and safety controls of the air transport industry. Especially for such safety critical elements such as points and rails. This could involve keeping more accurate records of when and who check specific equipment. These records could then be accessed by anyone.
Pete, UK, UK

The management at Railtrack lose control through excessive sub-contracting.

Gwyn Jones, EU
Subcontracting is the mode in management at present. It is seen to be advantageous from the cost point of view. The old joke in the Space industry is " How would you like to fly in a machine of 6 million parts all from firms with the lowest price ?" I think this is the real problem with sub-sub-contracting. It seems that the management at Railtrack lose control through excessive sub-contracting. It should be mentioned that the taxation system encourages this structure of doing business. Another point is that every layer of subcontract requires management, negotiation monitoring etc. and thus I find it amazing it should be cheaper. A rail system is after all static and it must be easy to predict the exact amount of labour required to do safe maintenance, so why subcontract ?
Gwyn Jones, EU

So Stuart UK wants the railways to be put right at the expense of the Railtrack shareholders. Stuart, the private shareholders were railwaymen like signallers and they have already lost 2000 on average each because their bonuses for good work were paid in shares. The other big shareholders were big institutions who invested yours and my pension and endowment funds in Railtrack. If they have to pay your pension will be worth less and your endowment mortgage will be even lower. Even MPs pension funds lost 500,000 when Railtrack was 'snaffled' but don't worry, the taxpayer will cough that up. The Post Office Pension Fund lost ?4 million I believe as well, - guess who's paying for that.
Anthony, England

The Chiltern Trains line is a prime example of why we shouldn't renationalise the railways - as mentioned below, it's quick, clean, modern and highly reliable. Private initiative can produce good results, and it appears to me that this problem has been caused by the transport secretary winding up Railtrack - resulting in a big loss in staff morale, and hence risking safety.
Loz, England

They should re-nationalise and call it British Rail again. But first, the owners and shareholders of Railtrack should be accountable for everything and made to pay for all the improvements needed to the Rail system before it is handed back. After all, it is their negligence and greed which is to blame for all this and many lost human lives which cannot be "Paid Back".
Stuart, UK

Why do cars, some busses and aeroplanes all have safety belts to protect passengers in event of accident, but not trains? Has safety such a low priority?
Andrew R Walker, Scotland

Some train operating companies are working far harder and providing a much better service than BR ever did

David, UK
Having worked in the rail industry for nearly 20 years, I think people take an over simplistic view on how to resolve the problem. Privatisation has not worked in many respects - certainly the way Railtrack and it's subcontractors operate is extremely poor. However some Train Operating Companies are working far harder and providing a much better service than BR ever did. One of the ways to improve the railway is to replace Railtrack with a non profit making organisation (as is currently being discussed) and reduce the number of subcontractors working on the railway. One of the problems with having poor subcontractors is that Railtrack procedures for undertaking work on the line have become so tedious and lengthy to invoke that you can not actually get on the line for any length of time to undertake work. Also, the way rail and road safety is treated by the HSE is imbalanced. A traffic cone and a rope is sufficient to protect workers on a 70mph motorway but the railway has to implement complex procedures which change frequently and few people can remember. The railway, on paper, has become "too safe" for it's own good.
David, UK

People look through "rose tinted glasses" at the days of privatisation, but there were many incompetent people working for British rail, and these same people are now working for contractors. Previously mistakes, however serious, could be "covered up" but now that is impossible, as contractors have to report everything back to Railtrack. So it seems like things are worse now, but they are not it's just we hear more about them. Was it a much better service (trains running on time, less accidents, clean trains with plenty of seats )ten years ago? I don't think so.
Anon, UK

As someone who travels almost exclusively by public transport, and remembers the railways under BR, I can only say that the railways have improved. Despite Hatfield and Potters Bar, the statistics seem to indicate that this already safe form of transport is safer in private hands, while they are certainly more accountable. The loss of franchise by Connex, and the improvements under their successor in the South East show why in the long run this is an effective system. Remember that at privatization, the railways were heading for serious problems anyway.
Marc Stoneham, UK

There is no reason to believe that this situation would change if the railways were re-nationalised.

Leos, UK
Airlines operate wholly within the private sector, and many outsource their maintenance to private contractors without any concern being raised by the travelling public. This is because both contractors and the airlines have strict management controls and enforce agreed standards that ensure that safe procedures are followed at all times. Airlines and their contractors both know that they will face substantial penalties (hundreds of millions of pounds in lost business and potential bankruptcy) if there is a breach of these guidelines, in particular if it results in loss of life. The plain fact is that there are no such penalties for Railtrack or its suppliers so they make only a limited attempt to develop and enforce appropriate safety standards. Furthermore there is no reason to believe that this situation would change if the railways were re-nationalised.
Leos, London, UK

I think that the actual services should be run by the private companies we have in place at the moment, as some are now starting to renew their rolling stock, and they are committed to the improvement of their services. But the actual upgrade and management of the track and signalling should be returned to government control. So that the companies can exploit their new stock.
Steve Pryce, England

The Labour party is forever telling us that it would simply cost too much money to renationalise the railways. Given the obscene amounts of money that have been spent so far with bailing out Railtrack and compensating its shareholders, this argument is becoming increasingly less tenable. If they were to do the decent thing and bring them back into public ownership and establish a proper system of subsidies, they would, I'm sure, get nothing but respect.
William van Zwanenberg, Finland

The most significant change that should be made is to ban Railtrack from subcontracting the work for which it is responsible.

Martin, England
It is largely irrelevant to me whether the railways are owned privately or publicly. What matters is that they are run as a single integrated system where the customer's needs come before those of the shareholders. Where "the railway system" takes collective ownership for problems, rather than forever passing the buck between TOCs, Railtrack and their respective subcontractors. The most significant change that should be made is not to nationalise Railtrack - it is to ban Railtrack (or any other railway company) from subcontracting the work for which it is responsible.
Martin, England

Many people have stated that private companies "put profit before safety". This is clearly nonsense. Take air travel for example. If BA had fatal crashes on a regular basis you would choose another safer airline to travel on. Private companies know that if their service or product is unsafe, nobody will use it and they will go out of business. The problem with rail is that the Railtrack itself is essentially a monopoly. If trains are derailing all the time you cannot choose another train that runs on a safer parallel track!! That is why private ownership/ competition does not lend itself to Railways.
Jonathan Michaud, UK

Robin Clark's comments earlier that railways should be tarmaced over and replaced by roads which are 'safer' defy belief. 3000 people are killed on the roads every year in the UK alone - even allowing for the difference in miles travelled, roads are STILL at least 30 times less safe than railways.
Ian Bartlett, UK

They should tarmac over the railway lines and then rent them as private roads for bus and lorry services. Trains can only stop at 0.3 g, a car/bus can stop at 2g. Trains are inherently unsafe and belong in the Victorian era.
Robin Clark, Britain

I would like to know when these lessons are going to be learned

Paul Crosland, Netherlands
After each rail crash, the phrase "lessons must be learned" is used with monotonous regularity - I have heard it more than a hundred times since the Potters Bar disaster. I would like to know when these lessons are going to be learned, and by whom. Do we really need ANOTHER hugely expensive and lengthy public enquiry to produce recommendations which are then largely ignored?
Paul Crosland, Netherlands

It's all very well talking about corporate greed, but the British taxpayer is probably the most greedy of all. The inevitable clamour for renationalising the railways will suddenly die away the next time an election comes and less responsible politicians dangle the carrot of tax cuts - at the expense of essential maintenance for railways, hospitals and schools - in front of us.
Julian Hayward, UK

Reading this it is obvious nobody remembers BR. I am a regular train traveller and think the service has improved. I have not had a 26 hour delay since the railways were privatised.
Andy, UK

Things could be worse than now

John, UK
Can we stop living in this Utopia for a moment? Even if the state owned the railway there is nothing to prevent it subcontracting work in exactly the same way as Railtrack does. In fact things could be worse than now. As things stand with a private company charges of negligence and corporate manslaughter could be brought. As a state owned company you can bet the Government (especially Blair's mob) would rapidly hide behind crown immunity!
John, UK

Splitting the railways into various bits owned by various players prevents the cross-fertilisation of information between the various functions - operations, commercial, signalling, permanent way etc, that used to happen at all levels on British Rail. As an ex-railwayman, I say renationalise the lot, and run it as a no-frills utility for the ordinary person. Let the business users fly, then we won't need to spend extortionate amounts on track for 150 mph running. Instead we can build locomotives and stock that can run at 100mph, and the locomotives can be detached at night and used to haul freight. Perhaps we could keep older coaches in sidings, to be attached to trains as strengtheners during busy periods. It used to be done, when railways were run by railwaymen, and women.
Steve "Curryman" R, UK - East Anglia

It is precisely in pursuit of that profit that private companies and investors will try to do far more than any public sector body to win business from you and me

Robin Wickenden, England
There seems to be this automatic assumption that public ownership is some sort of panacea for anything that goes wrong. People who think BR did any better either have very short or very blinkered memories. Of course profit is a motive. And it is precisely in pursuit of that profit that private companies and investors will try to do far more than any public sector body to win business from you and me - they won't do that if they're seen as unsafe, so it's not 'profits before safety'; it's 'profits through safety'. The same applies to punctuality, but the main problem here has been the regulation and compensation system that has tended to cancel out this effect by failing to reward any effort to correct problems and delays once they've occurred and someone else can be blamed.
Robin Wickenden, England

Over the last few months every commuter, every train driver, ticket collector, trolley attendant on this route has been aware of a problem with the track south of Potters Bar. Can we really believe Mr Armitt's assertion that no comments have been received by Railtrack? There seems to be a culture of "deny first, check facts later"
Brian Griffiths, UK

I use air travel far more than the railways, limited companies run our airports and airlines so what's the big deal? I will die without the services of private enterprise (food, water, fuel, housing) so why should I turn to the State to run a minor part of the transport system (check the passenger km % by rail to see how important it is to the country as a whole, not just London's vested interest commuters).
Phil Thompson, UK

The advantage of the privatised rail companies is that they are accountable to their shareholders. BR was accountable to nobody!
Peter, UK

What is the difference who runs the railways? National - the government will always put politics, money before safety. Private - profits before safety Until the guy in charge of any body that runs the tracks, signals etc is held personally accountable for every death, injury and delay caused by poor maintenance then the fare paying passenger will always be the last concern.
BecH, UK

I have to say that the railway system should definitely be run by a not-for-profit company

Stefan, UK
As someone who relies exclusively on public transport I have to say that the railway system should definitely be run by a not-for-profit company, a company that takes whatever profit it makes and invests it back into the infrastructure that is its responsibility. Sadly, it appears that TOCs and other parties with an interest/investment in the railway services in the UK appear to put profit above safety and structural investment. Without customers you do not have profit. Without safety and affordability you do not have customers (except for those who do not have a choice in the matter). It's a vicious circle, and only those involved can break it. It's time people put greed for money on the back burner in favour of investment NOW and reaping the rewards later.
Stefan, UK

The people who run the railways should have a strategy based on Safety, Reliability and Cleanliness. For years (even in the bad old days of BR) the above has been difficult to achieve by most rail operators. Too many organisations will inevitably start passing the buck.
Kev Wilkinson, UK

If left in private hands corners will be cut. If left in government hands they will pass the buck & make excuses like everything else. Not great choices but if I had to make one I think it should be in government hands with ministers/government responsible if anything goes wrong. If the government know they could be sued for millions they might have the incentive to improve things
Tes, UK

Tony Blair continues to speak out against nationalisation as 'ideological'. Continuing to run death-trap rail networks with pitiful punctuality records because of a belief in the 'market' sounds to me far more ideological than the alternative.
Matthew, UK

At the time of privatisation, it was argued that a privately run railway would operate more efficiently. Has anyone asked then, where these savings should come from? And have any "lessons been learned" with regards to air traffic control?
Holger, UK

Everyone says renationalise and have done, for private ownership cannot work. Who of these have tried the Chiltern line from Birmingham to Marylebone? Modern trains, affordable fares, new stations built at Warwick, comfortable, clean, fast, polite staff. They seem to be making a profit as well - an example of how the railways should be run.
Chris Street, UK

The Railways should be publicly owned

Matthew, England
The Railways should be publicly owned. The operating companies pay shareholders a dividend out of taxpayer's subsidies to the industry. When nationalised at least out money went into the rail network. It is not good for the country as a whole to have something as important as transport in the hands of a company looking at short term gain. For example if the West Coast Mainline was improved the benefits to the north-west would far outweigh the costs of the upgrades. By having the railway as a bunch of private operate companies you cannot integrate transport into government plans for the country as a whole
Matthew, England

Railway system? What system? As a system is a number of parts formed into a regular and collective whole, whatever our railways are, they are certainly not a system. France has an enviable railway "system", so perhaps France should be invited to put the dangerous and shoddily run mess which is our rail network back into some sort of order. We are apparently incapable of doing it ourselves.
Chris B, England

Who owns the railways is not the problem. The problem is the fragmentation of control. It seems to me obvious that both the track and the trains should be owned by the same entity, that safety should be separated out to an independent watchdog and that maintenance should not be subcontracted down so many level. Without these changes Potters Bar will happen again
Richard Hammond, UK

As a redundant British Rail employee due to privatisation, I am disgusted to see yet again more people dying on the railway. Having worked for BR signal and telecoms in London, I came across so many excellent signal engineers who did more than there best to maintain and provide a safe signalling system with a limited budget. SQT was the standard - Safety/Quality/Teamwork. It is time to bring back British Rail. With excellent management, resources and staff BR could be the best in the world. Contracting, subcontracting etc is an absolute nonsense in this safety critical environment. British Rail should be totally responsible for the rail network. The government should bring us back...ex BR engineers, management, clerical and training staff. Britain deserves a first class railway and a new BR can achieve it.
Edmund O'Leary, UK

Could I suggest that, no matter who actually runs or is responsible for the service as a whole or in part, there should be a similar facility as found in the aviation world: the respective pilots, ground staff, air traffic control, etc. can all refer "incidents" anonymously to a central agency, with the goal of improving overall safety for the common good. Yes, its smirks of mobbing, blackmail and so on, but isn't it worthwhile?
Colin Basham, Germany

If the result of the UK's model of rail privatisation wasn't so tragic it would be a joke. Its ludicrously expensive, it's inefficient and unreliable and it's plainly unsafe. When will the politicians stop wringing their hands and summon the courage to act appropriately? First world prices, third world service!
Shane, UK

The last people I would trust to run a National Rail Network is the Government

Anthony, England
As a part owner of 3 ex British Rail Steam engines and a shareholder in the Watercress Line, I can assure you it has been many years hard work trying to restore the engines and track that we bought when British Rail shut all those branch lines down. The last people I would trust to run a National Rail Network is the Government. They do not have the money. If they do, it has to be spent on Health, Education and Police before the railways. And just look how the politicians are looking after our roads. They are full of potholes, half the street lights aren't working, signs are illegible on the Motorways, and yet no-one complains. The aircraft industry is successful probably because the Government doesn't interfere.
Anthony, England

Renationalisation is no longer a matter of "should we", it is now simply a case of "when" and "how".
Trevor Mendham, England

Of course it should be re-nationalised - there is no other responsible option. Inappropriate privatisation of a public service is essentially a blame-removal technique employed by the government. I think they are fearing the emergence of a suing-based culture - and want to make sure the buck doesn't stop with them when there's a problem. What's more, the contracts-based nature of privatised companies ensures the buck keeps getting passed on - until it stops at the person least able to do anything about it (such as a deceased train driver). Why else are they so hell bent on the illogical privatisation of the Tube, Air Traffic Control or the NHS etc?
Richard, UK

I think we should preserve the status quo. After all, Mr Byers has the PM's full confidence and he has categorically pointed out that this was just a one-off tragic series of unfortunate events. Much like Clapham, Hatfield, Selby and Paddington come to think of it! Nothing for us to worry about it would seem, the Transport Secretary has his finger on the pulse.
Shaun, Teignmouth UK

Of course it should be re-nationalised - there is no other responsible option. Inappropriate privatisation of a public service is essentially a blame-removal technique employed by the government. I think they are fearing the emergence of a suing-based culture - and want to make sure the buck doesn't stop with them when there's a problem. What's more, the contracts-based nature of privatised companies ensures the buck keeps getting passed on - until it stops at the person least able to do anything about it (such as a deceased train driver). Why else are they so hell bent on the illogical privatisation of the Tube, Air Traffic Control or the NHS etc?
Richard, UK

Of course any basic infrastructural service which we all use and need (and which is by definition vital to the smooth running of the economy) should be publicly owned, run and managed. The evidence is all around you now in the UK - not just in transport. Wake up, Britain: the profit motive has its place and it's not in generic public services. Thatcher's vision was blurred and it's time to admit it - and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Julian Chilcott, Netherlands

Most of the mismanagement and shoddiness now endemic in the railways is inherited from BR

Peter, UK
No doubt most people will call for renationalisation. However having worked in the rail industry shortly after privatisation, all I can say is that most of the mismanagement and shoddiness now endemic in the railways is inherited from BR. Let's face it, BR wasn't exactly safe either. It was a nationalised BR that worked its signal engineers so hard that they messed up the wiring at Clapham signal box and killed 35 people.
Peter, UK

I agree. If companies rent routes from the Government, at least we know the track is safe in public hands. These Rail Operators only get worried when it's close to the end of their franchise. Much like this Government, they are full of promises, and never deliver. If the UK is such a 'rich' nation, why do we have such a third world rail service? Transport in general in the UK is poor. Dangerous roads & rail all lack investment and investment is not a word in the dictionaries of Private companies such as Railtrack.
George UK, England

The French or the Germans would be a very good choice to run our rail networks. They do a very good job on their own nationalised non-profit transport infrastructure.
Jez, Bristol, UK

This is the only way we're going to abandon our cars for trains

Christine, UK
The Government wants to encourage us to use rail travel rather than our cars. I'm all for that, but in order for me to make the change some fundamental issues have to be sorted, namely safety, reliability and availability. If the railways are run as private companies their shareholders will demand profit over safety. Renationalise the railways. Put our road taxes and petrol taxes into bringing trains and tracks up to scratch with the rest of Europe. Then the Government can introduce road tolls and use the money collected in that way to subsidise train tickets. This is the only way we're going to abandon our cars for trains.
Christine, UK

As the British taxpayer foots the bill for the railway system, this system should be nationalised and run by a special national service akin to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police force. Perhaps then more of us could afford to use the railway system and the green parties would be happy as well.
Sue Prescott, UK

I still hope that Labour will find the resources at some point that are necessary to re-nationalise the railways, but I accept that at least for now, the issue of 'ownership' is probably secondary to making sure that those who do run the system are actually (not just theoretically) held responsible for its failings.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

What we need to see is an unconditional public commitment

Kathy Sadler, UK
It has been reported that there will be a full investigation of the Potters Bar train crash and Stephen Byers has promised an interim report within days. Frankly on past performance this is totally worthless. What we need to see is an unconditional public commitment on the part of Stephen Byers and Tony Blair that they will implement the recommendations of the inquiry immediately. Then maybe they could implement the recommendations made after Clapham, Paddington and Hatfield!
Kathy Sadler, UK

Years of experience have shown that state ownership results in poor control and little accountability. Why therefore would it improve the current state of affairs on the railways? It is only by making people personally and financially liable that proper control will be instilled. The successful will reap huge rewards and the failing penal penalties. Unfortunately this country never accepts people earning high returns from success nor seeks retribution for failure. If mediocrity is the national psyche what should we expect from our national institutions?
Richard Bankart

In response to Richard Bankart, as a railway historian I have to say that privatisation and the competition ethic have never worked on Britain's railways; they are uneasy bedfellows with safety and public spirit. When a host of private companies ran the railways before the 1923 amalgamations, most attempts to improve rail safety had to be forced through by government in the face of tooth and nail opposition by penny-pinching companies totally indifferent to public opinion regularly outraged by one rail disaster after another. True competition rarely existed because most routes were operated as regional monopolies and those that were not quickly became the subject of "gentlemens' agreements" between companies, stitched up privately in smoke-filled board rooms. Few attempts were made to connect with other companies' services for the passengers' convenience. Nationalised railways are not perfect, but John Major's privatisation has done nothing to install company loyalty or dedication to serving the public. Only the shareholders, bonus payments and profits seem to matter. Re-nationalise, and the sooner the better.
Charles, UK

Someone who is both competent and accountable of course
Mark, UK

Isn't it time to re-nationalise the railways and have one proper, not-for-profit organisation running them and get them functioning again? Haven't we had enough proof that privatisation doesn't work for public transport?
Shirley Keane, UK

"Railtrack" - the track, signals, and those stations not otherwise publicly owned, should be owned by UK National Government

Peter Judge, UK
"Railtrack" - the track, signals, and those stations not otherwise publicly owned, should be owned by UK National Government, with Directors elected by the rail passengers and others representing the (to be publicly owned) train operating companies (TOCs), and other directors representing the trade unions in the industry.

"Inter-city" train operating companies should be owned by either the relevant national government (England, Scotland or Wales) (or a combination of these), or consortia of (the future) regional government served by the TOC concerned, again with passenger directors and trade union directors.

"Regional railways" should be owned by the relevant regional government, or consortia of these, or a consortia of councils in the region covered by the TOC; again with passenger and trade union directors.

Local Councils and regional government should have the power to own and maintain stations in their own "territory" subject to agreement between the interested parties. The public bodies owning the TOCs should also own the comparable bus services, with local bus services going back to local councils.
Peter Judge, UK

As an ex-railwayman I believe the railways should be nationalised, despite never having had any time for socialist policies generally. Privatisation has been tried before, and through necessity, the hundred or so private companies involved in Victorian days had to be amalgamated into four in 1923, and then into one (which became BR) in 1948. But the lessons that had been learned during 150 years of railway operation were ignored by John Major, who was determined to leave office having foisted a chaotic privatised network upon the labour government which he knew would follow him. The results of his spite are plain to see.
Paul, UK

If the railways are run for the benefit of the passengers, perhaps it could be run by them - a season ticket doubling as a share certificate?
Brendan Fernandes, UK

The Government should be running the railway. Private companies have only one interest - profit. It is impossible to invest the required amounts of money into the rail network to bring into the 21st century, while achieving that goal. Logic therefore concludes that the situation will not improve unless someone is prepared to run at a loss for 5+ years before there is even the remote possibility of getting anything back. Who could do that other than a government?
Simon, UK/Finland

As it currently stands, we have a disjointed railway network run by lots of companies all trying to squeeze a profit out of a service which needs a major overhaul. I find it sad that some of these companies appear to put money first before people's safety
James G, UK

In my experience the service has been in constant decline

Pepe, UK
I travel by train from Basingstoke every working day and have done for seven years. In my experience the service has been in constant decline. Value for money is poor and I only really use it as there is no viable alternative. I blame the current owners of the South West Trains franchise for most of the issues and the same company has been responsible for the hopeless bus service in Basingstoke (and most other areas of Britain). There is no doubt that public ownership makes for a better transport system. On my travels to Europe (Milan most recently) I have marvelled at the integrated, cheap and reliable public transport there. The UK is probably worse than most third world countries when it comes to moving the populace around. As such, and in conclusion, yes - the trains should be publicly owned and run (as should all bus services).
Pepe, UK

A single not-for-profit entity should run the railways under the remit of getting passengers from A to B as safely and with minimal fuss as possible. I can't believe this should be too difficult as the infrastructure is already in place and a lot of other countries manage it.
Martin, England

How short our memories are. When the railway system was so bad we demanded privatisation because state ownership 'did not work' and now we are calling for the reversal. We should be demanding higher standards of performance at all levels and holding to account those responsible.
Tony Lines, England

Very difficult question. Many people seem to be of the view that the railways should be government controlled (i.e. nationalised), their reasoning being that "they used to be state owned and run, and at that time everything worked fine". Of course, the reality is quite different. Even under state ownership there were problems, and as the article published on this website last week showed, fatal accidents have been occurring on British railways long before privatisation took place. It is also quite obvious that being privately owned doesn't automatically mean that a company will be a failure. You only need to look at the large number of successful companies on the UK Stock Exchange (none of them state owned) to see that. Yes, we want better, safer, more modern, more reliable railways, but being the nation of cheapskates we are, we won't want to pay a penny for them.
Simon Moore, UK

The truth is that the nationalised railways had no better safety record

David Moran, Scotland/Australia
No doubt there will be calls for "renationalisation" of the rail infrastructure - but the truth is that the nationalised railways had no better safety record. What I would prefer to see is the model used in the aircraft industry - where planes are privately owned and maintained, but with close scrutiny from Government-appointed regulatory bodies. A Rail Safety Inspectorate, carrying out the role that the CAA performs for aircraft, would be the best model; that separates the safety aspects out from the operational aspects. My worry, however, would be that the Rail Safety organisation would be subject to government interference and political manipulation.
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

Private enterprise cannot be trusted to put safety first. A private company's priorities lie with the shareholders. We have seen this with Railtrack taking 500 million pounds of tax money and instead of investing in infrastructure and hiring enough staff to run it safely, giving it to shareholders as dividends.
Vish, UK

The railway system should be run by private companies that are also responsible for the area in which they run their services. A central body consisting of a member of each company along with independent representatives to cover the needs of the customer. We had the best system in the world, nationalisation made things lazy and expensive. It is now time for companies to stop looking to blame things on the past. Get their fingers out, and start introducing trains with the latest safety features, and, more importantly, a program to replace the worn tracks that have served well, but now need replacing. Let's get back to a first class system that does not charge a fortune to travel on.
Malcolm C, UK

The Germans. Efficient and hard-working, they have a strong sense of duty and wont patch/bodge things up, like us Brits, with our "improvisation" and facade.
Erwin Saxon, UK

I believe that it should be a public service

Steve Kniste, Bristol, UK
Should the railways be treated as a public service or a cash cow for a few? As a public service, you and I, the public decide how much money is to be spent on safety. As a cash cow, the directors decide the ratio between body count and bank balance. I believe that it should be a public service.
Steve Kniste, Bristol, UK

I really can't see how Railtrack can manage the maintenance of the lines if all their maintenance staff are contracted and sub contracted. Already it has emerged that a rail worker may have tried to notify one of his superiors about the faulty points. When you are talking about the safety of passengers I don't think it is prudent to be cutting costs and therefore all staff should be directly employed by Railtrack.
Craig, UK

What's wrong with the French system where the government is responsible for the track? Then private companies can rent routes but the track should be safe and in a good condition.
Rob, UK

Should the railways be publicly owned?



78 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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See also:

14 May 02 | England
Fresh bid to remove crash train
13 May 02 | Business
Jarvis in the spotlight
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