CROYDON COMMENTARY: High fares and poor service are the bane of every local commuters’ daily grind. DAVID CALLAM suggests it is time for change
Trains play a crucial role in the lives of many people in Croydon.
I haven’t been a commuter for donkeys’ years, but I still remember the uncertain wait, morning and evening, on crowded platforms for a service that might or might not arrive, or might be running seriously late for all manner of spurious reasons.
Trades unions insist that the service has deteriorated since John Major privatised the railways in 1993.
But what privatisation?
The tracks and the land on which they stand still belong to the public, quite rightly; but so do the trains. The decisions about which trains we buy for which lines are taken by civil servants, who do the deals with train-builders. Operating companies are told which trains they will run and who they will employ at the time franchises are let. When the franchise expires or is terminated, the trains and the staff are immediately passed on to the next operator.
The number and nature of trains required to run the Thameslink service from Bedford to Brighton via East Croydon have long since been decided. Thameslink 2000 was a Millennium project that may finally be completed by 2020. The first trains are already being tested in Germany, but the operating franchise for the service has yet to be advertised, let alone let.
Likewise new trains for the East Coast Main Line and soon-to-be electrified lines to Wales and the West Country have been ordered long before we know who will run them.
We have a government-controlled railway service that we subsidised with £3.2 billion of public money in the financial year 2012-2013, and yet we pay some of the highest fares in Europe.
The government would have you believe high fares result from all the investment we are making in the railways: new lines, new signalling, new stations and new rolling stock. But our continental cousins are doing as much investment, if not more, as we are.
Rail economists tell us our track maintenance charges are some of the highest in the world. Network Rail, which manages the tracks and signalling, is a public-sector company.
In Croydon, the stations are grossly inadequate for modern needs. East and West Croydon, the two busiest stations, both need rebuilding with additional platforms.
My nearest station, South Croydon, is a nightmare for anyone with mobility problems or even for a parent with a baby buggy; its platforms are only accessible from a pokey subway that can truly be called Dickensian.
Labour’s Ed Miliband wants to make the railway a General Election issue. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday morning that there would be something in the forthcoming manifesto, but he wouldn’t say precisely what.
There are many in Miliband’s party for whom a publicly run railway is an act of faith; likewise, there are those on the other side politically who think the answer is to privatise every aspect of the railway.
The matter must be decided economically, not politically, which is why we need to ask some basic questions, including:
- How much would it really cost to run an efficient, modern railway?
- Is it more cost-effective to run it in the public sector or to let a series of long-term management franchises?
- What can we learn from railway systems abroad?
- How much of the cost should we meet from taxation?
- How should we apportion fares between peak and off-peak services?
Once we have the answers we can make a properly informed decision.
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: Wadjda, May 8
- Coulsdon Euro election hustings, May 8
- David Lean Cinema: Blue Velvet, May 10
- Croydon Ecology Centre seeds and seedlings sale, May 11
- South Norwood local election hustings, May 12
- Thornton Heath local election hustings, May 14
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- David Lean Cinema: The Invisible Woman, May 15
- Broad Green local election hustings, May 15
- Coulsdon West local election hustings, May 16
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Coulsdon East local election hustings, May 19 (confirmed)
- St Giles’ primary school open morning, May 21
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- Greek Myths: stories and mask-making, May 27
- Howard Marks: Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe, May 29
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Tales from Ancient Greece, Upper Norwood Library, May 29
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, May 31
- Stitch Pitch quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, June 2
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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