7.12.16

THERE'S THE GREAT WESTERN WAY. THEN THERE'S THE WRONG WAY.

It's long been tempting for people to think of railroads the same way they might think of carriageways, or the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  One entity owns the right of way, and other entities run the vehicles that run thereon.  In the absence of transaction costs, it might work.  On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the transaction costs manifest themselves as traffic jams, or as rolling roadblocks when the semi going 46 pulls out to go around the semi going 45.

But in The Motherland of Railways, where for the past twenty years or so, something as close to a libertarian fantasy when it comes to unbundling the track from the trains, a rediscovery of the old ways seems the way to attain a state of good repair.
Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, will say he wants the publicly-owned Network Rail to share responsibility for running the tracks with private train operators.

It means that rail companies such as Virgin and Southern would become responsible for repairs and maintenance for the first time, ending Network Rail's monopoly.
It's the transaction costs, stupid. “Too many people and organisations are now involved in getting things done - so nothing happens.” Or what happens isn't good service, such as taking tracks out of service for repair during the Festive Season.  Passenger complains to carrier, carrier complains to Network Rail, Network Rail consults the Archbishop of Canterbury, and perhaps the passenger gets a partial refund.  If you haven't got a ha'penny ...

In time they'll learn. Railroads would like to have the kind of control over scheduling and reliability that comes from common mechanical standards, dispatching, and scheduling.

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