Privatisation damaged our railways

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Brian Monteith (Perspective, 10 August) is correct when he says that the competing objectives of government hindered the smooth running of nationalised industries in pre-Thatcher Britain as the strategies of these industries would be influenced by shorter term national objectives.

It was a question of spending tax receipts on schools, hospitals and social security or invest in infrastructure. Inevitably, infrastructure investment suffered.

However, he is wrong to suggest that privatisation has been nothing but good. Railtrack, following the Hatfield train crash in October 2000, had to be replaced by a nationalised Network Rail as Railtrack’s commercial objectives clashed with the cost of proper maintenance of the tracks.

The rolling stock industries which were once UK-owned and run are now a foreign-owned shadow of their former selves despite a much busier network which has need of more rolling stock.

Additionally, in Scotland, as passengers, we are forced to use much inferior rolling stock than was in use in the 1960s and 1970s.

The East Coast Main Line Company went bust some years ago and was renationalised but when the franchise was put out to tender the state-owned East Coast company, which had been successfully running the line, was forbidden to put in a bid; so much for competition which Monteith suggests is one of the main benefits of privatisation.

Brian’s memory of catering on British Rail is also very selective. I can recall catching early trains from Glasgow Queen Street to Fort William, during the 1970s, on the way to the hills and enjoying wonderful cooked breakfasts while trundling along beside Lochs Long and Lomond.

Such food and service are unavailable on today’s trains. Back then there were guards vans which could carry 20 bicycles at a push, while the soon-to-be open Borders Railway from Edinburgh will manage just two per train.

So much for improved services for passengers in a privatised railway.

Much of the improvement in telephonies, railways and other former nationalised industries is down to improved technology, clearer objectives leading to better management, rather than a question of ownership, and the reason that other countries have followed the example of the UK and have sold off state assets is that receipts from these sales means taxes can be lowered without affecting expenditure on schools, hospitals and social security.

A win win for the governments of the day!

Benedict Bate

South Clerk Street

Edinburgh