Posted 18th June 2012 | 14 Comments

Scots want escape from 'perverse' railway laws

THE PRESENT railway laws introduced by the government at Westminster since 1993 are unnecessarily restrictive and are hampering growth, according to the Scottish Government. It is also concerned about the prospect of the next ScotRail being operated by a foreign state-owned railway,  particularly when Scottish public bodies are barred from competing.

Now, just days before the vision for Scottish railways from 2014 is expected to be unveiled by Holyrood, Scottish ministers have staged an attack on existing railway legislation, and are calling for further devolution to allow Scotland to make more of its own decisions.

Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil has written to transport secretary Justine Greening to call for increased powers.

He said it was 'perverse, and verging on the ridiculous' that state-owned companies from other countries can operate rail services in Scotland while home-based public bodies cannot.

He wrote: "As the analysis of the various outcomes from our Rail 2014 consultation progresses, I am growing increasingly concerned and frustrated at the extent to which the legislative framework currently in place for rail across Great Britain constrains the options which we are able to consider.

"While Scottish Ministers have certain powers under the Railways Act 2005, this is limited by broader rail legislation, in particular the Railways Act 1993 which privatised the rail industry.

"This means that, despite providing the overwhelming bulk of the funding, Scottish Ministers have minimal say in how railways in Scotland are operated, managed and regulated and are limited to contracting rail passenger services by means of a private sector franchise."

The increasing foreign control of railway franchises in Britain is also causing concern.

The international arm of the state-owned Dutch Railways, Abellio, took over the Greater Anglia franchise in February this year, while two of the contenders for the Intercity West Coast franchise are Abellio and a partnership of Keolis and the French national railway SNCF. Abellio is also a partner in both the Northern franchise and the Merseyrail Electrics concession. 

Meanwhile, the Geman state railway Deutsche Bahn has acquired a significant stake in British railways too. It owns the Chiltern and Arriva Trains Wales franchises and the Tyne & Wear Metro concession, as well as open access operator Grand Central and freight operator DB Schenker, formerly EWS. In addition it has a 50 per cent stake in the London Overground concession.

Mr Neil has told Ms Greening: "It is perverse that largely state owned companies such as Deutsche Bahn or SNCF can operate rail services in Scotland, but a Scottish public body cannot, even in circumstances where this may be the most effective, value for money option available. This situation verges on the ridiculous when one considers that the bulk of funding for railways in Scotland is provided by the Scottish Ministers, yet our options on how these services are delivered are unduly constrained.

"Your consultation on rail decentralisation for passenger services in England suggests that improved outcomes for transport users might be achieved if more decisions relating to local services were made closer to the communities that they serve. I fully support that concept and would wish its application to Scotland. Accordingly, it is vital that the Scottish Parliament has full legislative competence with respect to the provision and regulation of rail services."

Mr Neil's call has come at a critical moment for the railway in Scotland. It is now expected that the results of the controversial Rail 2014 consultation will be announced in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, although it is also believed that some of its more extreme options, such as dividing Scotland into several franchises, were rejected early on. Proposals to shut some stations which are either little-used or close to an alternative railhead also appear to have been abandoned.

But some major reforms are still possible, including the award of a closely-controlled concession instead of a franchise, while the rail union Aslef has predicted that the Caledonian Sleeper services, which have recently been promised grants worth up to £100 million for rolling stock upgrades, could also be hived off from ScotRail and become a separate operating contract.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • jak jaye, oxford

    Can anyone show me what the difference is between BR and todays profit driven railway? apart from lots of liveries,trains made in (mainly)Germany and cowboy companies like First Group/Stagecoach getting millions in taxpayers money to pass on to their shareholders.And as for the BR knockers just remember how little money they received from day one compared to what is invested now,the last year of BR they got 1.6 billion now its more like 6bn
    Privatisation is(and has) been a complete disaster,just take a look at Christian Woolmer's book'On the Wrong Line' syas it better then i can.

  • Mark Lewins, Stoke-on-Trent

    Holyrood should decided who runs Scotrail. Simple. First already pay vast amounts of money for track and station access in England. As for offering the sleeper serivce on a seperate contract? It'll almost certainly be handed to the same company that gets Scotrail due to the clauses that will undogbtedly see both contracts expire at a similar point in time.

    Separating the sleeper, actually opens the doors, with the investment, to build the service. New routes from the west country and wales into scotland are more than feasible.

    First Group are by far opwrating, from experience as a passenger, the best service in Britain.

    Bring back the big 4. With Scotrail in place, it'd be very easy to then integrate that into the old LMS routes; and who would mind renaming east coast The LNER but being operated by the same company as runs scotrail?? Southern is still Southern afterall and the GWR is still known as Great Western.

    In any sense, our railways have taken a knock and are now improving.

  • nathan darroch, London

    We do not need to go back to the under funded run down years of BR caused by successive government attitudes of the car is better and cheaper. However the way the railways are run does need a lot of consideration. How can the ORR operate South Eastern and East Coast better than privately funded infracos for example, which they did and do!

    What needs to happen are people in general need to understand and acknowledge that the railway of Britain are essential to the whole community and as such we all need to put our hands in our pockets. What also needs to happen is that government realise that paying private companies money so they can charge extortionate fares that goes to pay shareholders is uneconomical and impractical.

    What we need is a modern publicly owned railway system managed on the lines of a private company.

  • lorentz, London

    Those asing for the return of Britsh Rail have short memories - by the 70s it was run purely for the benefit of the employees, with abysmal standards. It was also the case that there were many casualities amongst its customers during it's existance.

  • lorentz, London

    I am quite happy for Scottland to take ownership of rail services and infrastrucrre in Scottland, provided I can also stop subsidising it through taxes and rail fare sucharges in the rest of the United Kingdom.

    If the scots take over the railways, they will back with a begging bowl within 3 - 5 years due to the low patronisation of rail services in scotland. Rail in Scotland is just an expensive 'I want one' toy.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    When British Rail was 'privatised' and became Railtrack it was broke. Numerous speed restrictions and quite honsetly very dangerous track. This became obvious in the next few years with the number of serious accidents. They were 'privatised' becuase the Government couldn't (or wouldn't) pay for the huge investment needed and hoped Railtrack could borrow the money needed being a private Company- and keep that away from the Government needing to raise taxes to pay for it. I don't think anyone realised how bad the railways really were. When they were re-nationalised to become Network Rail the Government did then ( because of Public pressure ) throw money at the problem and we today do have a well-financed and maintained track system. It could probably be re-privatised with some degree of success but it probably won't happen, and I'm not too sure anyone would want to buy the shares.

  • McMadman, Edinbugh

    The Edinburgh trams project is the responsibility of the COUNCIL and NOT the parliament. The current SNP government, when first elected in 2007 was a minority government. It was against providing any funds at all for the project, but the Labour, Tories and Libs voted it through.

  • Lee, Manchester

    Several of the 'private' operators are actually public sector bodies running nationalised railways in France and Holland and Germany. What I want to know is why our own Government can't do something similar. It seems to me that the main issues revolve around how the running of the rail network is so fractured and involves so many different bodies with individual proffit margins and apparently little cohesiveness. Ideally we could return to the 'Big Four' or something similar where one company runs the whole service plus stations and infrastructure, rather than one company providing the rolling stock, another maintaining it, yet another running it, then another operating the infrastructure. I believe Merseyrail tried to do this but were defeated by the sheer cost of taking over infrastructure maintenance. But why does it cost so much? Because one company runs the infrastructure, employing another to provide the plant, then another the materials and several more to actually do the work, coupled to years of minimalistic and deferred maintenance. Whichever option we go for, a step-change in a short period of time is extremely unlikley and gradual change will take years.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Wonder if politicians who privatised BR realised that one day they would be once again become state owned the difference being it was any foreign country but not Britain!!

    Those who deride BR in the 80's and 90s should remember what railtrack did to our railways when they neglected the tracks in favour of profits.

    Anyway surely the Scottish government should be the one who decides the contract for Scottish services not whitehall!

  • Julian, Glasgow

    I'm not sick of the current state of the railways. I'm not that old, but I do remember the latter years of BR and the service was terrible. Have we all forgotten the 80's and early 90's?

    There are more services now than there ever was....and as a customer....that's what I want....and before anyone bangs on about the current cost to the tax payer for providing those services, I shudder to think how much it would cost the government to sustain this level of service and investment if it was a public entity.....and there is no extra money to go round.

    Is it really that bad that SNCF or DB are involved in the running of our railways? I've travelled on services of both, and they certainly know how to run railways properly. Our public sector is littered with red tape and inefficiency ( I work across various parts of the public sector...I know this to be true). Any problems there are with our current rail service is probably stemming from the railways public sector legacy that has not been fully flushed out the system.

    Yes, the current franchise system still needs to be tweaked, and the whole railtrack episode was a fiasco, but it was never going to be easy. I think we have a railway that is getting stronger at the moment, and yes, I believe we should have more say at a localised level to make decisions on services.....but I would like to see our own public sector kept as far away as posisble from the running of them.... I'd much prefer to get a "gutentag" or "bonjour" when boarding my local service.... :-)

  • Claydon William, Norwich, Norfolk

    Yeah..... we've all seen what a fantastic job the public authorities have done in Scotland with planning the Edinburgh tram system. (LOL). These spendfrith idiots in Holyrood shouldn't be let anywhere near public funds.

    And as for Jamie of Farnborough; you must have a very different recollection of the Brirish Rail that I remember. BR's service was generally c**p in just about every measure possible, and it was pointless complaining, because nodody bothered to answer your letters or phone calls.

    The current set-up is far from perfect, but the railways in this country were originally built and owned by private companies, and that's where they should stay.

  • ron willcock, Yeovil

    Allowing foreign government backed bodies to make profit using taxpayer funded assets is a deal worse than perverse , it is crackerjack madness , surely bordering on the illegal

  • Bob Grundy, Lancing

    Bring back British Rail? I wish, but if that were a practical proposition John Prescott would have done so. Remember it took 40 years to get the nonsense out of BR's organisation. On that timescale, privatisation is less than halfway there - plenty nonsense still to go at, as we see here.

  • Jamie, Farnborough

    For everyone and anyone who's sick of the current state of our railways accross the UK, type in 'Bring back British Rail' into Google and sign their petition.