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We trust that readers will appreciate our innovative approach to the imminent general election. We have ignored it.
In crude terms, that lot will not admit that they wantonly wrecked a fully functioning railway. This lot seem hell bent on subjecting the Underground to the same divided we fall treatment. The other lot don't have a chance anyway and Baron von Thunderclap, Transport Spokesman of the Monster Raving Looney Party, has yet to pontificate as we write.
No doubt there will be days in the campaign managers' 'grids' when Transport is the chosen topic, but we suggest that motoring rather than public transport will dominate. Finding feel-good photo opportunities and up-beat sound bites in today's railway will not be easy, whatever the colour of your rosette.
Sound-bites simple cannot encompass the scale and complexity of the problems facing the railways. After five years of that lot and four years of this lot politicians and civil servants are bereft of easy answers – and must be hoping for a quiet life between now and 7 May. Anyway, our industry is so volatile that any answers you have are inevitably overtaken by events.
Gerald Corbett caused panic in the ranks of Government and industry last October when he called for radical restructuring. Chris Green, in his Bob Reid Memorial Lecture (M Rxx) steadied the troops with his measured proposals for an evolutionary approach which we and many in the industry wholehearted endorsed at the time. But in three months is a long time in railways and matters have subsequently gone downhill so fast that we believe that revolution is now the only answer.
Obviously no modern politician would dream of opening such a can of worms before an election. But after an election, a new transport secretary could well decide that the railways cannot be allowed to sabotage the 10 year transport plan and declare that something must be done. And that something will have to start at the SRA, the Government's executive are when it comes to always.
Quite simply, the SRA has succeeded in doing less, with far more, and still growing, resources than its predecessor, the Orffi8ce of Passenger Rail Franchising. It could be argued that it takes time for a new organisation to grow into an entirely new role. It could be argued that attempts to develop a strategy have been undermined by the chaos following Hatfield, but even before Hatfield the SRA had no idea of where the railways were going other than the out of thin air aspirations to boost passenger ridership by 50% and freight by 80% over the next10 years.
Why 50%, why 80%? Do these figures represent the result of any social or commercial strategy? Are they the outputs expected from a new model railway? Is there a link with the much vaunted, quite meaningless expenditure figures proposed under the 10 year Trtansport Plan. No, they are just targets.
And undermined targets at that. Strategic Rail Authority Chairman Sir Alastair Morton has admitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee Transport , that the public/private finance model of the 10 year plan has collapsed. Following Railtrack's realisation that it can't finance its £8billion contribution more public investment will be needed to lever in less private finance.
Meanwhile the SRA has lost the core competency where it was so strong - letting franchises. Ministers must blench each time a recommendation comes in for a replacement franchise award and wish for someone who either sticks with the numbers or has some political sensitivity.
With OPRAF you knew that the lowest bid would win. Under the SRA, soft issues appear to be over riding hard cash. GOVIA seems to have won South Central because they weren't Connex, or perhaps did not have Connex's track record. Since the SRA has no method of measuring track record other than the Mortonometer, the former explanation seems more likely. First Group and their Dutch Partners were spitting mad over the decision to leave SWT with Stagecoach. GNER and Virgin are both spitting mad over the changing goal posts and elastic timescale of the InterCity East Coast franchise replacement.
And now, with the election imminent, the SRA is reported to have asked the DETR to approve Connex as the new Trans Pennine franchisee. Paranoid rival bidders saw this as the quid pro quo for a quick exit from South Central. Even our preference for cock-up over conspiracy was tested by that one.
So, on 8 May, the new Transport Secretary must start with a purge of the SRA. What it needs at the top are people who know about railways, understand how the railways work, and are not afraid to get stuck in. Oh yes, and can think strategically. They will have to lead the revolution.
How to hit the ground running? Well the one person in the SRA who has demonstrate all these abilities is its Freight Director Julia Clarke. So that's the new Chief Executive settled. Combining the role of Chief Executive with Franchise Director has been a mistake. A Director Franchising would seek to recreate the OPRAF can do enthusiasm.
And as for Chairman? Isn't it time Tom Winsor spread his wings a little?