Douglas Carswell

05 DEC 2016

Grayling is right to take on Network Fail's monopoly

Clacton's commuters are all too familiar with the poor service delivered by Network Rail. I've long argued that ministers need to challenge the monopoly that enables Network Rail to ignore passengers' interests. Now it seems ministers agree.

Rail privatisation is a bit of a misnomer. Since the collapse of Railtrack, Network Rail – a government subsidiary – has owned and operated all the track.

Yes, private franchise operators run the trains. But the conditions for how trains are run are issued by the government – along with substantial taxpayer subsidies.

The Department for Transport actually has more direct control over railways now than it did in the days of British Rail.

Which is why renationalising the railways is no solution to poor service. State-backed monopolies aren't the answer. They're the problem.

It's because Network Rail has no competition that it has no incentive to avoid delays. British Rail was much the same.

So the news that Network Rail's monopoly may soon be coming to an end sounds promising. The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, is set to announce that Network Rail will have to share responsibility for maintenance with train operators – who have more of an interest in finishing repairs on time.

There may be other ways to boost rail competition too. Last year, the Competition and Markets Authority recommended that the government open up intercity routes to multiple train operators instead of contracting them to just one franchisee.

Of course, there is no silver bullet here. Consumer choice is difficult to create when infrastructure is limited and economies of scale are important. With any reform, the devil is in the detail.

But passengers will never get better service as long as train and track operators can get away with ignoring them. Breaking the monopolies is the right way forward.

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