The “Great Train Robbery” – Going too fast without thinking and without knowing is a waste of time and resources

The Finnish government has launched a proposal to break-up the rail passenger monopoly that it owns.

The whole process was decided up many years ago and the current Minister of Transport has outlined the path that future governments may or may not follow.

Transport infrastructure and transport policy are extremely complex areas to manage because they require huge fixed investments in infrastructure that the private sector seldom wants to invest in and they are subject to technology developments that cannot be forecast easily.

Consider railways – the fixed investments in land, rolling stock and in safety equipment is massive and they also require huge maintenance costs because they cover vast stretches of land. Only a few lines can be run on a commercial basis, and when they stop being profitable, weeds grow unless the taxpayers are asked to support them with funding for eternity!

Now we have a proposal from the Minister that places all (100%) new investments squarely on taxpayers for infrastructure, rolling stock and equipment. New operators will be asked only to pay for the right to operate certain packages of lines but they will not be asked to invest a penny under the present proposal.

These new operators will seek to extract profits by running the lines with the lowest possible costs, and charging the highest possible prices from passengers, their baggage, the use of toilets and restaurant cars… which means stretching labor and paying them the lowest possible costs and using automation to cut these costs.

Perhaps the new operators will be enlightened and offer business people business class wagons with the delights of 1st class soft wide seats, caviar and wine; and then there could be ordinary economy class wagons for normal folk, and then the low-cost wagons with wooden seats in noisy rattling wagons. Just like the trains of 100 years ago – is that progress?

…and let us recall that most of these interested foreign operators are government-owned or close to their national governments. So here we have new operators coming from the public sector (or close to the public sector) from which the Finnish government wanted the Finnish Railways to move away. That shows a total lack of self-confidence, and can somebody explain why there is this myth that the private sector has a monopoly on efficiency? Do you recall the total failure of the Royal Bank of Scotland 10 years ago, Europe’s largest bank and the biggest supporter of privatisation of public goods!

Suggesting that competition will encourage better train transport in 8 years time when we already have a great railway system with competitive prices is rather far-fetched for any minister to propose, especially when Omnibus, a private bus company, has already forced down ticket prices for long distance travel and when the present railway company has seen a huge increase in passenger traffic this last 2 years.

Who knows what will be happening in 5 years or 8 years time. What can be said is that the 1 day strike by train drivers next week is not a sensible move.

Strikes hurt the very people who need trains and chaos will only make the sector weaker,

Trade unions also need to plan and think harder about the future they want because the future always has lots of unpleasant and sometimes peasant surprises in store that nobody can see before it is too late.

Driveless and electric cars are coming – so what about driverless pods that can use railways and roads? That’s not such a difficult future to see… what will we then be doing with all this expensive heavy infrastructure?

 

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