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The Modern GWR

ROSCO Rip-off!

At least one good thing (and probably only one) has come out of the government’s look at the costs of our railway system.   There are, we are told, £3.5 billion of ‘inefficiencies’ and out from under the stone has crawled the scandal of the ROSCOs, the Rolling Stock companies who actually own all our railway trains.

When John Major privatised the network in 1992, the feeding frenzy that occurred meant that those ex BR bosses who saw privatisation as the get-rich-quick opportunity that it clearly was, knew that the key was owning the locomotives and rolling stock that formed the trains and leasing them out at exorbitant rates to the desperate companies who ran the services.  It was never going to be much fun in being a Train Operating Company with the angry public snarling at them and the ORR on their backs. Likewise, maintaining an ageing and crumbling Victorian network of tracks, bridges and stations was never going to be anything other than very expensive and hard work. The trains were the thing to have.

And so it has proved.  There are 3 ROSCOs: Porterhouse, Angel Trains and Eversholt and the individuals who have owned them have made an absolute pile from ripping off the public and selling them on so that now they are effectively so far outside the long arm of democratic accountability that even this government wants to know how it is that they can send over £700 million to off-shore bank accounts since 2008 when the railway network is so strapped for cash.  Angel Trains’ Jersey based parent, Willow Bidco, for example, have (according to The Sunday Times of 20 May) paid out almost £300 million in dividends and the others are not far behind.

It seems symptomatic of the current time that the political consequences of the privatisation era are starting to unravel before our eyes and that the antidote to the poison taken during those years is to do something to reverse them.  Could it be anything other than sensible for Network Rail to own and control the trains that run on the rails? And, Wahay!, there is now talk that Network Rail may be seeking to team up with one or more of the TOCs to buy the ROSCOs.  You can see why.  NR needs the money and the ROSCOS make money. Add in the TOCS and you start to have the makings of an integrated rail system that could just start to meet the needs of the economy and the public. Simples.

But, of course, while this apparent coming together of the fragments of BR may seem a good idea, what would a fully integrated network operating within the private sector be like? Might it not be a monopolistic dinosaur of unlimited power to run the whole network as it wishes with, perhaps, even less public control than exists at present?

And then of course, they might eventually split this private monopoly into four parts, covering different parts of the country.   One of those could be based at Swindon, I suppose!  You have to laugh, don’t you?


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