The Times: Senior Tory in crusade for railway competition

Former minister John Redwood has joined others in calling for more ‘open access’ train operators, writes Robert Lea in The Times. 

To read the full article, visit The Times website

A former Tory minister in both trade and the communities has joined the lobby pressuring the Transport Secretary to relax rules and introduce more competition on the railways.

The noted free marketeer John Redwood has joined Steve Baker, a Tory backbencher and anti-HS2 campaigner, and the Labour MP Sir Tony Cunningham and other members in calling for more “open access” train operators.

Open access is the means by which train companies can run services within, and potentially in competition against, the franchises of incumbent operators. Such companies have flourished on the route from London King’s Cross to the North East and Edinburgh, a franchise run by the East Coast Main Line Company but where FirstGroup runs Hull Trains and Arriva operates the Grand Central service between King’s Cross and Sunderland.

However, the failure to encourage similar competition on the West Coast Main Line against the incumbent operator Virgin Trains led the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) — on prompting from the Department for Transport — to open an inquiry.

A letter signed by Mr Redwood and fellow MPs states that industry forecasts show passenger numbers doubling by 2030. “The need to provide more services and open new locations with a competitive fare structure is crucial. Growing evidence suggests that new long-distance, high-speed open-access rail services … receive no taxpayer money and deliver more routes, more passengers, lower fares and high satisfaction ratings.”

The ORR, which is to close its inquiry at the end of next week, has stated: “While there is currently limited space on Britain’s railways to run competing services, ORR’s view is that the existing processes for open-access operators to run passenger services could be improved to create more opportunities.”

The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), the free market think-tank, prompted the inquiry with a hard-hitting report by Tony Lodge, the CPS research fellow, in the spring. This found that competition opportunities are being missed.

In its response to the inquiry, the CPS said it welcomed an apparent change of heart from the Government but it continued to heap pressure on the regulator: “The consultation does not provide a detailed breakdown of when the ORR expects to take its plans forward to deliver new policies to enhance on-rail competition … This must be clarified.”

It continued: “There is now sufficient evidence to … award new high- speed long-distance open-access services to serve new locations on the West Coast Main Line.”

To read the full article, visit The Times website

Date Added: Wednesday 31st July 2013