Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge, speaking in a Parliamentary debate today has criticised the way that the Government's franchised rail system leads to poor outcomes for passengers, with endless layers of cost and complexity. He slammed the Conservatives for replacing British Rail with Anything-but-British Rail, and questioned the value of the now mainly foreign-owner Train Operating Companies. He quoted today's report from the National Audit Office which concluded that the Great Northern franchise which runs trains between Cambridge and London King's Cross 'has not delivered value for money.'
He says, "Franchising is just one element in a very complicated system. The complication of the several layers of rail governance - network rail who controls the tracks and own the stations, Rolling Stock Companies who own, maintain and lease out the stock, and then the franchises, who don't run the tracks, and don't own the trains!"
"These franchises, or Train Operating Companies, therefore, lease the trains, lease the stations and rent out the retail space for profit, use the prescribed slots on the tracks to run a prescribed timetable, but this all rather begs the question: what is the point of transport operating companies? What are they actually adding, apart from diverting public money into their own pockets?"
Mr Zeichner discussed the complexities of apportioning responsibility within the system, with a minor army of people employed not helping passengers but arguing over contract obligations. He pointed out that "The Transport Operating Companies inevitably try and shift the blame when services are delayed, to Network Rail or elsewhere, making it ever-harder for the public purse to be reimbursed. The cost of these dispute reduce efficiency and puts costs onto both the tax payer and the passenger. There is a clear case for a simpler, much more integrated and steamlined system."
He called for reform of the rail system, explaining that "almost £5,000 for a London season ticket is a huge cost out of many young people's post-tax income in Cambridge. And the truth is that, sadly, with Greater Anglia, the third most complained about train operating company (with Virgin East and West Coasts hitting the top spots), it is clear that the current method of rail franchising is not delivering for Cambridge.'