‘Why rail nationalisation won’t necessarily end commuter misery’

A ScotRail timetable from the mid-1980s before privatisation, a time now fondly remembered by some
A ScotRail timetable from the mid-1980s before privatisation, a time now fondly remembered by some
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The increased number of cancelled ScotRail trains has, perhaps unsurprisingly, seen calls for renationalisation grow louder, writes Jane Ann Liston.

However would state ownership give passengers a better service? After all, if weather forced two-thirds of the cancellations, surely that would apply as much to a nationalised railway as to Abellio?

Railfuture Scotland is not opposed to state ownership of the industry but recognises that it is no panacea. The old British Rail, so fondly remembered albeit selectively, also suffered from cancellations and its punctuality was a butt of humour almost as much as its catering.

People felt that BR chiefs thought they could run the service perfectly well, were it not for these pesky passengers wanting to get on and off, while any suggestion of additional stations was usually firmly slapped down.

READ MORE: More Scots commuter misery as train cancellations hit new high

Under nationalisation, the railways were all too often a political football, kicked about by both shades of government, and frequently put under the control of a Minister in thrall to the road lobby and with no interest in railways.

There were, though, some rail enhancements in the dying days of BR, notably Bathgate, thanks to the persistence of the redoubtable Chris Green; rumour has it that he almost re-opened St Andrews too.

However, you will look in vain in the immediate pre-privatisation timetables for trains to Larkhall, Alloa, Laurencekirk, Conon Bridge or Beauly, or between Bathgate and Airdrie, and of course Galashiels and Tweedbank were considered a pipe-dream.

READ MORE: MSPs to vote on public ownership of trains

Passenger numbers have increased dramatically since privatisation because, despite the best efforts of the rail industry, people actually like travelling by train.

One can argue that, in principle, an essential service such as rail transport should not be left to the vagaries of private finance, though any nationalised railway would need a guaranteed annual budget lest it be subject to the vagaries of whichever government was in power.

However, surely the important thing is that the trains do run, as specified, when they should and where they should, including intermediate stops. It would be wrong to take a ‘public good, private bad’ stance.

Jane Ann Liston is secretary of campaign group Railfuture Scotland