Perhaps the greatest unintended consequence of privatisation is that the railway today is under even greater state control than at any time since the days of the British Transport Commission following nationalisation in 1948. Compounding this situation is the fact that transport ministers, their advisers and civil servants know little about the technical and operational realities of the working railway. Even worse, many of the newcomers to the industry responsible for running the railway infrastructure are in the same situation. As a result, the industry is open to the purveyors of easy answers.
As H. L. Mencken almost said ‘There is always an easy solution to every railway problem – neat, plausible, and wrong’. We saw this validated during the week of the Conservative party conference when Transport Secretary Chris Grayling demonstrated that behind that Woosterish demeanour is a Woosterish enthusiasm to embrace last year’s technical nostrum; an enthusiasm, so we understand, even the Jeeves in his ministerial team could not curb.