Rail shambles no laughing matter

WHEN I heard that the government's competition commission was to investigate National Express taking over the rail franchise between London and East Anglia, I really didn't know whether to laugh or cry!This is yet another example of the government's completely fractured thinking when it comes to transport and competition policy.

WHEN I heard that the government's competition commission was to investigate National Express taking over the rail franchise between London and East Anglia, I really didn't know whether to laugh or cry!

This is yet another example of the government's completely fractured thinking when it comes to transport and competition policy.

National Express company One does have a monopoly on rail services between the region and the capital - precisely because the government's Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) decided it wanted to create a monopoly on all passenger services into Liverpool Street.

So to investigate One for creating a monopoly seems perverse in the extreme. What we have is one branch of government investigating a company which is implementing the policy of another branch of government!


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It may also be the case that the competition commission will investigate the fact that National Express also runs all the timetabled long-distance coach services between East Anglia and the capital.

But is this really competition for rail? Coach journeys between Ipswich and London take between two and three hours in each direction - and they are much less frequent than trains.

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In fact if you tot up every seat in coaches from the town to the city, they total less than you get in one train!

They are no good for commuters and not really practical for a day out in London.

And they're hardly a secret. The SRA must have been aware that National Express ran these coaches before it awarded the company the franchise.

If the competition commission is so concerned about the creation of a monopoly, why didn't it tackle the SRA when it first announced it wanted to bring all the rail services operating into Liverpool Street under one operator?

Why did it allow the SRA to go right through the process of choosing an operator and then for the franchise to start before starting an investigation - and then claim it was investigating the company rather than another government agency?

Could it be that the government was embarrassed when it emerged that the loss of competition (caused by its own policy) was pushing up many fares for passengers and was looking for someone else to blame?

We've seen the competition commission getting involved in transport policy in this area before - two years ago it contradicted Department of Transport policy by saying Ipswich Buses and First Group couldn't accept each others tickets on their bus services in Ipswich.

It took months of effort - not to say thousands of pounds - to sort that mess out. Once again when it comes to transport policy it looks as if the right hand of government hasn't a clue what the left hand is doing!

I'M beginning to think that the turnout for this year's council election in Ipswich will be higher than normal - the political parties seem to have got the bit between the teeth much more than in previous fights.

Every time I bump into a local politician they keep telling me they're busy on the streets but they haven't seen any sign of their opponents.

I've got news for them - I've seen workers from all the major parties plodding the streets and calling on houses. And it's been a long time since I've been able to say that!

For once no one will be able to say that they're unaware there's a local election on - a low turnout this year won't be the fault of the political parties, if it happens it will be the result of apathy among the voters.

IN the wake of the MPs' report on obesity last week, I would like to apologise to everyone who has ever accused me of being smug, for pointing out that I have never smoked in my life.

Apparently my addiction to cheese scones is more dangerous than your addiction to tobacco!

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