It’s the New Year in Britain, and as is now traditional, it has started with news stories about rail commuters complaining about increases in the price of travel. The news coverage has ranged from the simple to the simplistic.
It’s worth unravelling some of this. In terms of the rail sector, the clearest summary is from Christian Wolmar.
Finding the right target for passenger anger is made difficult by the fact that transparency is not a feature of the rail industry and railway economics remains a dark art. … The railways may have been privatised in the mid-Nineties, but in reality they are a mix of private and state interests, with most of the purse – and other – strings still being pulled by the Government. Forget the notion of a raw capitalistic enterprise with energetic entrepreneurs seeking innovative ways to fleece the public: the train operating companies are pretend capitalists who have very little room for manoeuvre and invest very little.