The cost of subsidising the railway has increased by almost three times in the 10 years since the privatisation Act was passed by the previous Tory government.

Public sector support for the railways in 2003-04 is expected to total 3.84 billion, compared to a total subsidy of 1.325 billion (at 2003-04 prices) in British Rail's last year as operator of an integrated railway.

Revenue, which the architects of privatisation expected to rise dramatically, has increased marginally from 4.94 billion in 1989-90 to an expected 5 billion this year.

The cost of the West Coast main line route modernisation now stands at 16.68million per mile (at 2000-01 prices), compared with the East Coast main line modernisation in the 1980s at 1.8million per mile (at 2000-01 prices) or even the French TGV Est - a completely new, high-speed line - at 10.84million (at 2000-01 prices).

The costs of many areas of work are now well in excess of twice those at privatisation, according to research carried out by Roger Ford and published by Transport 2000 in The Rising Cost of Britain's Railways.

A quick appraisal of the claims made 10 years ago shows that many of the grand hopes of privatisation are still to be met:


John MacGregor, then Secretary of State for Transport, claimed that privatisation would mean "greater efficiency". Total public support for the railways is now nearly three times more than in the last year of BR.

Back in 1993, a report for Transport 2000 by Steer Davies Gleave predicted that costs would increase between 15 and 28 per cent, meaning higher fares and higher revenue support from the taxpayer. Indeed fares rises have outstripped inflation, subsidy has increased and costs have too, by even more than Transport 2000 predicted.

Operational benefits

The hope was that operational convenience would cease to take precedence over customer needs. Since the fragmentation of our railways, practices such as stopping late trains short to allow them to catch up with the timetable, and neglecting to hold connecting services so as to minimise the effect on performance figures have become commonplace.


In 1996 Sir George Young, Mr MacGregor's successor at the Department of Transport, talked of a renaissance that would see performance rise from the much criticised levels BR achieved. In 1992-93 BR achieved nearly 90 per cent of arrivals on time. The latest figures from the SRA showed just 80 per cent in 2002-03.


Not all fears of those who opposed the privatisation have been realised, though. Certainly, fears of line closures, service reductions and declining passenger numbers have not been borne out. In fact our railways are now carrying more people than ever before and the numbers keep rising.

There are also many new trains and the first stage of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link has opened.

Transport 2000 public transport campaigner Mick Duncan commented: "The hopes and dreams of the privatisers have not been matched by reality. Costs, subsidies and fares have rocketed and performance has deteriorated."

A copy of The Rising Cost of Britain's Railways by Roger Ford AIRSE MILT is available from Transport 2000 on request.

Transport 2000 is a campaigning organisation that seeks sustainable solutions to transport problems. It promotes public transport, walking and cycling.

Mick Duncan can be contacted on 020 7613 0743 extn 115 or 07904 431959.

Info from Steve Hounsham. Tel: 020 7613 0743 extn 106 Fax: 020 7613 5280 Email: steveh at