I travelled down to meetings in London yesterday on a train run by Britain’s only state-owned railway operator, Directly Operated Railways (DOR). The East Coast main line had to be rescued by the state through DOR after both GNER and National Express failed to make the franchise work. By contrast DOR’s East Coast main line has worked well (even if, let’s be honest, the trains can be a bit overfull at times and the seats aren’t wildly comfortable).
Unlike GNER and National Express, DOR has been a financial success, bringing in £600m to the government over the past two years. But next Spring, the franchise is being offered out again to the private sector (and DOR won’t be allowed to bid). So those of us who rely on the East Coast line for work and pleasure will have to prepare for our trains to be repainted yet again with the name of another private operator.
Are there are other solutions for Britain’s railways? Top-down state nationalisation isn’t coming back, that much is obvious, but are there cooperative models which would make our railways once again able to operate in the best interests of us all?
I explore the debate around possible cooperative solutions for the railways in a piece posted today on the Guardian’s social enterprise site and also available via my own website. Incidentally, you’ll see reference in the piece to a new book Railpolitik from Paul Salveson, which is definitely worth looking out for (it’s published later this month).