Getting back on track
Rising fares and falling punctuality are undermining confidence in the rail-franchise system. What should replace it?
Many office serfs like to slip away early on Friday afternoons in the quiet summer months. So anger boiled over on August 9th when several rail lines were shut down following a power cut. Delays were so bad on lines going north from London that it was quicker for some commuters to trudge home on foot. The snafu was the fault of the electricity industry rather than the train companies. But it added to the railways’ growing reputation for unreliability. With dreadful timing, it was announced a few days later that fares would go up again next year, by 2.8%.
Boris Johnson’s government is consumed by the task of getting Britain out of the European Union by October 31st. But before then it must also make two big decisions about the railways. The first is whether to go ahead with HS2, a high-speed line between London and the north. The second is how to fix the rest of the network. This autumn an official review by Keith Williams, a former British Airways boss, will consider how to reform the franchising system under which most lines operate. Mr Williams has already said the current set-up has “had its day” and talked of “revolution, not evolution”.