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UK railroads: On track for nationalization


Almost a quarter century after British Rail was broken up and turned over to a bevy of privately-owned companies, the plan appears to have his the end of the line. Under pressure of rider complaints, Brexit and the pandemic, the government is moving to re-create a unified rail service.

Under the current plan, set up when John Major was Prime Minister, routes were franchised to a variety of companies, and the track-and-station network was turned over to another operator, Network Rail. By last year, Britain found itself with more than half of the operating companies owned by foreign companies, most of them European.

Several of the operating companies were already in financial trouble before the pandemic, which has cut rail passenger traffic to record low levels, requiring government funding to keep the system operating. The Transport Minister announced last week that it is taking "the first step in bringing Britain's fragmented network back together." He told press that “Our new deal for rail demands more for passengers. It will simplify people’s journeys, ending the uncertainty and confusion about whether you are using the right ticket or the right train company. "

For the moment, the operating companies will continue running trains, but under stricter standards, and limited to a 1.5% profit, while a permanent system is put in place.

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Ownership and control of the track, signalling etc. was originally farmed out to Railtrack plc, a private company. That was an unmitigated disaster - as many had predicted. It has since been re-nationalised.

The multitude of badly run train companies has been a separate problem. It seems that the privatisation ideology has hit the buffers in a pretty spectacular way, but the current government won't be put off making exactly the same mistakes in other areas! One suspects that lining the pockets of their supporters has a lot to do with it.

Last edited by Professorabe
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