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Truth about trains

Last week, Connex became the first private rail operator to be stripped of its franchise after being accused of financial mismanagement and poor service. The company, which carries 300,000 commuters a day, has become a byword for crowded, dirty and late-running trains.

What caught my eye was the fact that Connex is a French-owned company and the main reason for its demise is its contant pleas for funds. Connex has lost its franchise mainly because of its financial management. The SRA (Strategic Rail Authority) decided the extra £200 million of public subsidy demanded by the company would not be wisely spent (after it has already spent £58 million of public money received last December).

In the last couple of weeks we have had some interesting exchanges among commenters attacking and defending France. The trains were held as an example of French superiority in matters of public policy and generally as the evidence of higher civilisation in France. Ross Clark points out in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph:

If there is one good thing to come out of Connex’s humiliation, it will be that it should stop British railway passengers whining: “Why can’t we run our trains like the French do?” Connex, of course, is a French company, which brought with it to Britain experience of running commuter services in Paris.

The superiority of French trains is hugely overstated. TGV trains may be rapid and relatively inexpensive to use, but that is an inter-city service with few stops and it operates thanks only to state subsidies which would make a British taxpayer squeal. Most other French trains run on slack and infrequent timetables which ensure punctuality but at the cost of providing little amenity for the passenger. On holiday in Brittany two years ago I took my family on a 15-mile train ride from Paimpol to Guincamp. The journey took well over half an hour, excluding the 10 minutes that it took to buy a ticket. It cost £17 for two adults and two children; and there were only three trains a day.

The problem with travelling by train in London and the South-East is the millions of passengers being transported over an increasingly large urban area. The rail network is far from efficient but comparing it to the French equivalent is misleading at best. I am sure the guys from the Transport blog could supply all the relevant comparative statistics but even without them one can see that conveying commuters in London is, at least when it comes to size, a slightly different proposition to doing that in Paris, Rome or other European capitals.

52 comments to Truth about trains

  • Gabriel Syme writes:

    …conveying commuters in London is, at least when it comes to size, a slightly different proposition to doing that in Paris, Rome or other European capitals.

    I should coco. I defy any London-based Samizdatas, to beat this journey this morning, You Know When You’ve Been Tubed, which I had the misfortune to endure on this wet, humid, warm day.

    Blimey, I shudder to think there might still be American tourists down there, trapped in Lancaster Gate station. What kind of impression does this kind of experience, in London, does this give to the world? “Don’t do business there, the transport is terrible” I should think.

  • Becky

    Gabriel, your post is yet another lame attempt to throw together a lot of disparate facts, non-facts, opinion and anecdotal evidence in the hope that it will stick it together as some sort of coherent anti-French argument. Go pick on some seriously fucked up authoritarian country like Russia or China for a change and get your priorities right.

    “What caught my eye was the fact that Connex is a French-owned company and the main reason for its demise is its contant pleas for funds.”

    It failed because it was French and asked for money? No, it failed firstly because the privatised network in general is a total mess and a disaster, and secondly because of gross mismanagement stemming from the financial disaster that is its parent company, Vivendi. And Vivendi is failing not because it is French, but because of its megalomaniac former chairman’s high-risk spending spree in the boom times of the late 90s – a story has a lot in common with Anglo-Saxon failures of the same period such as Worldcom or Enron.

    Also, Connex asked for too much money (how French!). But did it receive notably more funds than any other rail company in terms of passenger miles? I don’t know the answer, but until you can answer that question in the affirmative, your criticism is meaningless. However, if there are funds that are legally available to it or to any of the rail companies, it only makes business sense to apply for them. Whether the government makes funds available or not is to do with the government’s judgement, not the company’s.

    From there, you move straight on to the entirely unrelated question of the French railway system – unrelated because the French have not been insane enough to privatise it. I have no idea what the system is like in the rural backwaters of Brittany – as if that could have any relevance to a national network. My experience of regional trains in France is that hardly anyone uses them and it’s amazing there are any lines there at all. The vast bulk of rail passengers are commuters around major cities and intercity travel. There can’t be much doubt that intercity and commuter travel is vastly superior in France in terms of pricing and punctuality. My travelcard costs less than half what the equivalent costs in London. I have never been stuck for hours in a metro the way I have been on a tube in London. Your point about conveying commuters in London being more difficult than in Paris because of size differences is spurious. The Ile de France region, where the vast bulk of people commuting into Paris lives, is about the same size as greater London and has a population of about 10 million.

  • Becky

    To chime in once again – what is egregious about your post, Gabriel, is that you utterly obscure the main point about the failure of Connex. It is that the privatisation of British Rail was a chaotic, expensive failure. If Connex has been judged a failure, there must be many other companies – French or British or whatever nationality – that are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, having absorbed tens of millions of tax payers’ money, and that will probably fail in the next few years. That is the real story, but you predictably let your Frog-bashing get the better of you…

  • Connex run the bus service between Helsinki airport and the city centre, and like just about all transport in Finland it’s clean, efficient, and while not exactly cheap no more expensive than in the UK. I can’t helping thinking that the problem is not specifically Connex but the system in which they have to operate over here.

  • eldan,

    Just for the record, the system over here (contrary to popular belief) is not a privatised railway system and never has been. It is a system of state franchise. It should be analysed on that basis.

  • Becky, calm down and read the news. I am not saying anything new or disparate. Connex did fail mainly because it kept asking for more money and the SRA needed to make an example to other rail companies, so they do not profer their begging bowls the same way.

    The fact it’s a French company is relevant since some people suggest that the French are somehow better at organising their rail network. Anecdotal evidence to the contrary is enough to show that it may not be the case.

    Also, see David’s comment above. Britain never de facto privatised its rail network and we are seeing the results of serious botched policies.

    My experience of the French metro system wasn’t that positive, but that is not the point. London’s is horrendous so much so that I don’t use it anymore. Again, that was not the point of my post.

    Finally, I have no interest in producing an anti-French argument, coherent or not. Just noticing that some aspects of statist management that France so excels at and which are heralded as successful, upon examination may not prove to be so.

    I wonder given that you get so upset about privatisation and other free-market solutions to ‘public services’, what on this site can possibly be of interest to you…

  • I would like to add my own thoughts on commuting as a whole, by drawing you attention to the following article I posted to the “In Your Face” section of my site http://www.kenfrost.com “The Living Brand”
    the other week:

    Commuting Hell

    Those of you in the UK who have the misfortune, like I used to have, of commuting to work by rail on a daily basis; will agree with me that it is an unpleasant, soul destroying experience. Common complaints include the following:

     The trains are often late.

     The trains are overcrowded.

     The interior of the train is often filthy.

     The safety aspects of overcrowding are, to say the least, questionable.

     The ticket prices keep going up, but there is no discernible improvement in the service.

    The government claims that it intends to improve the situation; yet, from a user’s perspective, they have yet to make any discernible impact.

    The question, as to why are the railways in such a mess, provokes a myriad of answers; including:

     The railways have suffered from years of underfunding.

     The government price controls prevents the rail companies from charging an economically viable fare.

     The privatisation of the railways emasculated management’s ability to manage the system.

    These are all very plausible excuses. However, I offer an additional explanation. The system in operation cannot cope with peak time demand because, the number of people wishing to use it during rush hour exceeds its capacity.

    This excess demand is brought about by a number of factors. In my opinion, the two key ones are:

     The population of the UK keeps growing, it is now approaching 60 million. I would suggest that this is unsustainable both in terms of absolute numbers, and the level of growth, for such a small island.

     The “desk bound” working population concentrates itself in and around the major city centres, such as London. The majority go to work at the same time each day, and consequently clog up the system.

    In my opinion, the problem can be addressed by adopting a “twin track” approach; whereby the government, and the population, work together to improve the situation. I recommend the following:

     Price controls on fares should be removed. The extra revenue earned by the rail companies should then be invested on structural improvements of the network.

     The government should “fast track” planning permission for extending stations and lines in and around major cities; this will allow extra/longer trains to be used by the rail operators.

     The individual citizen, working in tandem with their employer, should cast aside the institutionalised “nine to five” mentality that pervades office culture. Why should the working day only fit into this narrow parameter? Firms should pro-actively encourage flexi-time and home working.

     Instead of clock watching, the length of the working day should be based on the completion of defined tasks. I have worked for many years in offices, and witnessed an inordinate amount of time being wasted by people taking coffee/cigarette breaks, gossiping, going to the pub for lengthy lunches and chatting on the phone. They do this because they are bored, and have little to do to fill their day. Therefore, it should be custom and practice to allow people to go home when they have completed their tasks. This will mean that people will stagger their journeys from the office; thereby easing peak time congestion.

    The above suggestion also has the additional benefit of showing exactly how underemployed many office workers are; and should stimulate a much needed re-evaluation of the ways of working in the office environment.

  • I hate to say it, but I think Becky could have a point (boo, hiss, cries of resign, etc.) It’s even Hayek who says either a completely planned system works, or a completely free one works. It’s this third way mish-mash, so beloved of Major/Heseltine/Blair, which is such a complete dog’s breakfast.

    You’re working with coercion, subsidies for failure, bottom lines, favours to ministers, political interference, undeserved fat-cattery with public funds, a mixture of grand strategic planning, localised chaos, market forces, political forces, and then eventually, straight forward gangsterism, protectionism, favouritism, monopoly, back-handers, and corruption. What a heady cocktail! 🙂

    So, either do what the French do, nationalise the whole lot, and plan everything from Paris. Obviously, if you spend enough you’ll get a great rail service, though you’ll waste billions in productive capital this way, which may have been better invested elsewhere, which could cause your economy to rack up millions in unemployed, because of this misuse of capital.

    Or, you could privatise the whole lot, as was done with nationalised airlines like BA, and get the government out of the equation, saving taxpayers billions upon billions, all of which, in private hands, will then be used productively, rather than giving great fat wasted hand-outs to members of Network Rail and the SRA. And you’ll get a better service too, more responsive to its passengers, cleaner, faster, and with greater punctuality, driven by the consumer, and not by the government and its favoured fat corporatist friends.

    Is this too easy, or am I living in a dreamland? 🙂

    What a shower John Major’s government was. Thank God it was removed. It’s just a shame we voted in an even stupider bunch of lizards.

  • Andy,

    I don’t belive Becky made any of those points at all. All she did was engage in yet-another howling lefty harangue about the ‘insanity’ of privatisation. She is consistent, I’ll give her that.

    The either/or prognosis may have merit but I seem to recall Antoine Clarke telling us about the gigantic public debts that the French nationalised rail system has run up and that nobody in France dares even speak about.

    Patrick Crozier could provide a more learned chapter and verse on all this but I do believe that the highy efficient Japanese network is mostly privately owned and, of course, the British rail network was entirely built and run very successfully up until WWII.

  • Aaaarghhhh….

    Last line of the above should read:

    “….the British rail network was entirely built and run very successfully by private enterprise up until WWII.”

  • “…customer service is atrocious and very French.” Was I describing Connex, nope but it works just the same.

    In fact, I was describing Ubi-Soft service viz Shadowbane.

  • Liberty Belle

    Yes, David Carr. Of course the whole thing should have been properly privatised and the free market left to get on with it.

    However, even the newly privatised company(ies) would have been stuck with 50 years or more of government policy of blindly encouraging the growth of the southeast at the cost of jobs in other parts of the country. How dim was that? People would rather have stuck close to their families and friends – their roots – had decentralisation been encouraged. To encourage the growth of the capital city which then drains, leechlike, the resources of the rest of the country is beyond crazy. Two Jags claims he “wants” 300,000 – or is it half a million? – new homes in the southeast for the people who are drawn there by jobs – to which I would reply, “in your dreams, cabin boy”.

    Connex is a dreadful service, but it and the other rail companies are operating in gridlock conditions. Silver Link was actually rather good when I was briefly commuting to London, but as more and more jobs were created in London, as opposed to, say, north of Milton Keynes (scary!), it became more crowded and the seats, meanly designed for 10-year-olds, created conflict when they were all taken up. People couldn’t read their newspapers without opening them up in someone else’s face. Many opted to stand throughout the journey rather than be the one squeezed in the middle.

    Little by little, the coffee cartons and the Coke cans were discarded on the floor rather than in a receptacle and, in curves rolled around the floor and banked off people’s shoes because passengers – oops! “customers” – were angry.

    Connex is the worst train service I’ve ever encountered anywhere in the world but its failure is due as much to government policy as bad management and has nothing to do with a private railway system. Malaysia has, while retaining its parliament in the capital city, moved most of its government offices out of Kuala Lumpur, to everyone’s relief. (It also runs a good railway, by the way.) In these days of instant communication, why on earth doesn’t Britain do the same? Why not the Home Office in Leeds? The Commonwealth Office in Birmingham? Or, if they can’t bear to be parted, why not move Whitehall to Liverpool and re-invigorate it? Such a move would also have the benefit of enhancing the influence of the regional press, which are currently overwhelmed by London insiders. Nice if Londoners had to call their mates in Brum, for example, for the skinny…

    It would also give the British taxpayer relief from so much government business being done in restaurants and clubs on a wink and a nod.

  • Kodiak

    This is to answer to Gabriel Syme

    True French TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse = High Speed Train) is an unsurpassed econimical, technical & social world-class success.

    I myself complain about French trains being late (from 5 up to 30 mn, that is). Nothing compared with hours of time wasted when you use a UK “train” for instance.

    Plus you’re playing with your life & your wallet.

    Please stop being obnoxious with French trains.

    You’re just being ridiculous, once more…


  • Kodiak

    I -once more- apologise to Becky but I daresay she’s totally well informed about she’s saying & also has a structured view abouty the matter.

    As for Liberty Belle, I’d say: “stop getting brainwashed & get yourself an education in economics”…


  • Hi Kodiak,

    You may be particularly interested in an Economics primer, yourself. Try:

    You may be particularly interested in the following chapters:

    Public Works Mean Taxes

    Taxes Discourage Production

    Saving the X Industry

    Government Price Fixing


    The Function of Profits

    Once you’ve read this book, you may understand why France has millions unemployed, a stagnant economy, a lethargic state sector, and an unfunded pensions time-bomb.

    Oh, and a marvellous trains system. But it’s at a cost. The cost is all of the above.


    Hi David,

    Sorry for trying to jump in there in support of Becky. I tried to read between the lines, and draw something positive from what she was saying. Having re-read between the lines more closely, you’re right; there was nothing there! 🙂

    It’s just all of her usual negativity.

    What surprises me though about Major’s useless government, is why they didn’t just privatise the railways properly, using the pre-British Rail model. Even now, grown men go whispy-eyed talking about “The Old Great Western”.

    To have been so successful, and to still inspire such loyalty decades later, it must have been a hell of a system.

    Was there, perhaps, some back-handing going on, between government ministers, and directors of the new state franchises? It wouldn’t surprise me, if this were proved to be the case at some distant point in the future. A lot of money changed hands in those first few years. Our money.


  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    I began riding pretty intensively between Hastings/London and return just after the hurricain. I quit riding it at all last year.

    During that period the SE train apparatus improved marginally.

    I think the problem was that the grandparent of Connex Southeast was a French water company and they misjudged how run-down everything was.

  • Everyone seems to forget, but particularly Becky, that Connex freely chose to enter the South-East-England rail market as a supplier.

    No-one forced them to buy into that business. I assume Connex had some people analyse it first and judge the infrastructure, traffic load, potential profits etc. They did that and thought it was good.

    If what she and others say about South-East English railways is true, Becky has then shown convincingly that Connex are incompetent at assessing and entering new business markets.

  • The record of private railways where and when they have been permitted is a good one. Up until 1933 the British railway was entirely in the private sector and the best in the world. Its only serious competitor was the US railway which was similarly good up until air competition and government regulation wrecked its finances. The Japanese railway is almost entirely in the private sector and is brilliant. It is punctual, clean, fast and profitable. See here and here for descriptions of a couple of journeys I took on it last year. One of the most impressive aspects to Japanese railways is their business like approach. See the Central Japan Railway Data Book for an example of what I mean.

    As long ago as 1911, Edwin Pratt wrote Railways and Nationalisation which nailed the myth that nationalised railways were in any way superior. He pointed out that private railways operated better services, with fewer strikes at a lower cost to the taxpayer.

    For private railways to be successful, though, they need to be free. That is not the case in the UK. A train operator cannot own its own tracks, signals or stations. It is only around for a brief period of time so it makes little sense to own its own trains. The owner of the track could not (until recently) do his own maintenance.

    The UK is not the only country in the world to fragment its railways in this way. Most countries in Europe (including several of those outside the EU) have introduced some form of fragmentation in response to EU directive 91/440. Nowhere has it been a success. The Dutch took a very similar approach to the UK without privatising the network. But they have encountered similar problems to ourselves. Last year I spoke to a Swiss railwayman who told me that they had made the first moves towards fragmentation there and already they were beginning to encounter problems. Another Swiss railwayman, Carlo Pfund, wrote a pamphlet comparing the experience of fragmentation across Europe. Nowhere could it be said to have been a success and typically it had brought about management paralysis. One of the more interesting points he made was that the effects of fragmentation are not even. They are particularly severe on densely operated networks ie lots of trains on the same piece of track, such as are found in the Netherlands and the South East of England.

    It is very difficult to make the case for the French network without pointing out that it is burdened with a mountain of debt – £30bn last time I looked. In comparison the debt in the UK (until recently) was practically nothing but we are catching up fast. And what does the French taxpayer get for all his largesse? Rail accounts for 6% of all passenger miles in the UK but only 1% more in France.

    The TGV and high-speed trains in general, is a red herring. High-speed trains only make sense where the distance between major cities is relatively large as they are in France and Japan. In the UK, this situation does not exist and it makes far more sense (as British Rail understood in the 1980s) to concentrate on increasing frequency. A 200mph train is not much use to you if it doesn’t leave for another two hours.

  • Phil Bradley

    If British trains are as crowded as the comments indicate, then there is excess demand to supply and clearly prices are too low. Another way to look at this is there are too many commuters – the people who buy labour in the places where the commuters are heading obviously need to pay more for transporting those workers (via increased wages) and as the price rises the demand will fall.

    The other effect of increased prices is to stimuate more supply (or substitution of other forms of transport, or substitution of other solutions such as relocation to places where transportation is cheaper). Unfortunately the supply of new rail systems is very inelastic , not least because of the long lead times and horrific costs of new infrastructure in urban environments. I also suspect the railway companies do not pay anything remotely close to the market value of the assets they use (all that land).

    The solution is to privatize the rail system completely and let the companies do what they will with the assets. Of course this will never happen, because the result would be large parts of the rail system shutdown and the assets sold for housing or whatever. Government will argue that Britain needs a transport infrastructure, without realizing that there is always excess demand for subsidized goods. Remove the subsidies and the demand excess disappears.

  • Kodiak

    ANDY >>> thanx for the handbook in economics.
    I would much more appreciate something explaining why the UK has a third-world, slow, expensive, unreliable, dangerous, unpunctual train network. I don’t know much about UK train system, except these.
    Once I had to accompany somebody at Paddington station for a trip from London to Exeter. Man, that was real life experience… The station was a mess. There were tickets clerks dotted almost every centimetre but no one knew which train was or wasn’t leaving; schedules weren’t displayed satisfactorily; it was really worse than wasting your time like -say- fishing for info at the French Social Security. The actual trip time was 4 hours!!!! I don’t know the distance between London & Exeter but it musn’t be more than 500 km. So that should have been a 3-h journey -maximum…
    I know a Canadian girl who used to work on board for a UK train daily line like King’s Cross – Scotland. She used to say that heading for Scotland (musn’t be more than 800 km) was just like Transsiberian >>> slow, slow, slow, very expensive, unorganised, not like 21st century.
    As for the suburbian trains throughout the Londonese web, I reckon I’d feel safer on a 50-yo bireactor plane chartered by Aeroflot than on an English train for Liverpool Street…

    THEODOPOULOS >>> I didn’t know Connex was existing or was French at all. Well, if they failed to manage correctly a portion of the UK train system, perhaps this could be ascribed to the mess prevailing in that mad house you call UK train network.
    I’d be curious to know if London Electricity (a subsidiary of EDF = Electricité De France) is a well-managed utility or a complete disaster.

    MARK >>> “Connex are incompetent at assessing and entering new business markets”.
    You may be right regarding Connex’s misdeeds or lack of talent. Just there is NO such thing as a train business market in the UK >>> it’s just an examplification of government & business incompetence that’s also an “a contrario” instance of what should be avoided AT ANY COST.

    “Rail accounts for 6% of all passenger miles in the UK but only 1% more in France”. >>> Where did you ferret out those figures?
    “The TGV and high-speed trains in general, is a red herring. High-speed trains only make sense where the distance between major cities is relatively large as they are in France and Japan. In the UK, this situation does not exist and it makes far more sense” >>> there should also be a customer demand for fast train links between distanced UK cities: London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edimbourg etc. Not all UK cities are configured like Manchester-Liverpool >>> some are configured on the French pattern (don’t Newcastle & London need any fast track?).

    “If British trains are as crowded as the comments indicate, then there is excess demand to supply and clearly prices are too low”. >>> Too low???????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!…………… Do you need to be a millionnaire to have the right to be late & accidented in the UK?

    “The solution is to privatize the rail system completely and let the companies do what they will with the assets” >>> so you think that there is no alternative different from combining user cost increase and public assets sell-off (like transportation system).


  • Phil Bradley


    My point was that resources are finite and maybe people are looking at this the wrong way. Maybe the problem is too many people want to commute (too many resources are being allocated too commuting), and that it is artificially cheap. Maybe we should be organizing things such that much less commuting is required and the best way of doing this is through a price mechanism. This then frees up resources and in a free market, other things then get cheaper.

    A few years back there was a study that analysed what the UK government spent money on or otherwise subsidised, and who benefited. With the exception of welfare (UK social security), effectively everything disproportionately benefited the better off and this included public transport. Defenders of cheap public transport invariably argue that this it promotes social equity. In fact what happens is an unemployed Liverpool dockworker ends up subsidizing a London merchant banker.

  • Kodiak


    Continental France: 540.000 km2.
    Japan: 378.000 km2.
    UK (Northern Ireland included): 245.000 km2.
    Germany: 357.000 km2.
    Italy: 301.000 km2.
    UK = 65% of Japan, 68% of Germany & 81% of Italy >>> totally comparable in terms of geographical coverage. Is German train system delivering extremely poor transportation quality in relation with punctuality, price fairness & trip portfolio?
    France is like 2 UKs in terms of space, and despite this handicap she succeeded in yielding best European performance & best exporting credentials.
    France = State owned (lines = SNCF + tracks = separate public entity).

    Germany = 229 inhab/km2.
    Japan = 334 inhab/km2.
    Italy = 192 inhab/km2.
    UK (NI included) = 242 inhab/km2.
    France (continent only) = 111 inhab/km2.
    UK is twice as much densified as France & that should play as a strong incentive for transportation performance as the market base is large by definition. See the astonishing difference as for transportation service?

    Before the fast train web was designed to meet specific French territorial needs, airline companies were exploiting this niche. Nobody middle-class would take a train to go from Paris to Nice >>> they flew instead.
    The French “socialist” low- & regular-speed train network was nonetheless delivering best service than was in the UK.

    PASSENGER x KILOMETRE (2000, source = OACI)
    France = 67 billions
    Japan = 118 billions
    Italy = 32 billions
    Germany = 57 billions
    UK = 139 billions
    France = 72 billions
    Can’t find figures for other countries.
    France = 728 billions
    Can’t find figures for other countries.
    France = 67 + 72 + 728 = 867 billions.
    SNCF accounts for 8,3 % of integral transportation volume & for 52 % of commercial transportation volume (road traffic being deemed uncommercial).
    So, Patrick, your figures about train impact on passenger transportation market are valid ONLY if you consider driving your own car from home to work or to holidays as a deliberate avoidance of commercial transportation offer.
    It’s also true that French highways (99% of which are equally State-owned) offer unparalleled security & quality >>> remain to be compared with UK standards (I never drove in the UK >>> I can’t assess what your highway system looks like).


  • Kodiak


    1/ Please give an example of commuting prices when resorting to trains for Greater London. I have no idea of what you call “cheap”.
    The only remembrance I have is the UNHUMAN fare price of the obsolete, disrupting, poor-covering, stopping-10-times-5-minutes-between-2-stops London underground… >>> a weekly card for 2 zones (1 & 2) is something like 26 euros (£ 18 perhaps). A MONTHLY card for the same zones in Paris is 13 euros (£ 9…).
    I suspect the Tube to be privatised à l’anglaise (= a total mess >>> nobody knows what’s going on)while the RATP is fully State-owned (although run like an absolutely regular profit-making company).

    2/ “In fact what happens is an unemployed Liverpool dockworker ends up subsidizing a London merchant banker”.
    Fair enough. That’s precisely what’s wrong in the UK. Even pure-intended stuff are turning mad because the State is just a proteiform ectoplasm >>> it has no spine and no will.
    I don’t think that dockers in Marseilles are financing any bank or privatisation conglomerate. Transportation can be free for the poor, the unemployed & the needy (blind, disabled…).


  • Kodiak writes:

    ANDY>>>…I would much more appreciate something explaining why the UK has a third-world, slow, expensive, unreliable, dangerous, unpunctual train network. I don’t know much about UK train system, except these.

    Just be grateful you don’t have to use it every day! 🙂

    There is a very simple reason the UK has such a terrible rail system. Because the government funds it through taxation subsidy, and manages it through regulatory fiat. That’s it. End of story.

    See Mr Crozier’s superb article above, for a more comprehensive answer, and a series of alternative strategies.


  • Kodiak


    Do you seriously think that the UK or French or German train markets are big enough to be eligible to any sort of sound -if that could ever be- privatisation?

    The US train market can be or is privatised because the territory is 5.000 km in width & 2.000 km in heighth with a population approaching 290 millions.

    Similarly (& even if not all bits are actually privatised) the European train market is roughly segmented in as many parts as are States (due to history). So you can aptly divide (this may not necessarily entail privatising) a huge market in lots allocated to different agents. But law aspects & economical choices (privatisation, State-ownership, mixed status, other status…) is something distinct rather than pertaining to market division as such.

    Also State-ownership doesn’t necessarily imply mismanagement, undemocratic conduct of affairs, bribery, incompetence, overpricing, chronical disruptions, low speed, unpunctuality, unprofitability, poor maintenance, underdevelopment, poor equipment etc. It’s just a different approach, a different choice that IS working too.


  • Kodiak


    So the post-Thatcherite media-obsessed government led by Anthony Bliar (Weapons of Mass Disappearance) is actually funding (eg: taking money from your tax-payer pocket to grant it to non-public bodies running public transportation interests) a system that’s supposed to be private according to neocon orthodoxy…

    Well, it’s like France doesn’t have the exclusive monopoly of eerieness…


  • Becky

    I’m certainly not opposed to privatisation per se. I’m in favour of privatising national airlines, for example. But I don’t think the national rail network or the tube are very good candidates. From whatever political perspective you look at it, the fragmentary approach adopted by the Major government was a disaster – and as Andy said, that leaves either a totally planned system or a completely free one. Two problems with a completely free one. First, a rail network is a natural monopoly, with all the attendant problems that this implies. Monopolies are not good for the consumer, which is why there are anti-trust laws. When a monopoly is a natural one, then the only solutions are to maintain it as a public resource, or to heavily regulate it. The two solutions ultimately start looking very similar.

    The other reason is because of difficulties with the user pays model. Who is the real beneficiary of a properly functioning mass transit system? The passengers, of course, but also motorists who benefit from decreased traffic and more generally, the city and country as a whole, because major cities with good transport infrastructures attract more inward investment and facilitate business. That being the case, who should fund the transport system? Surely it would be unfair for the passengers only to shoulder the entire cost? It’s a bit like the argument for tax-funded defence, since it is impossible for an individual to “opt out” of national defence.

  • Kodiak


    Your analysis is plain & brilliant.


  • Kodiak

    Le chaos des chemins de fer britanniques.
    British railroad chaos.

    (Le Monde Diplomatique: avril 2002 – april 2002).

    Les salariés des compagnies ferroviaires privées travaillent souvent plus de soixante-dix heures par semaine et deux semaines d’affilée sans aucun jour de repos.
    Employees working for UK privatised railroad companies often work more than 70 hours a week & 2 weeks in a row without any day off.

    Cela explique en partie la fréquence des franchissements de signaux d’arrêt : l’autorité chargée de réglementer la sécurité a d’ailleurs publié une liste de vingt-deux gares où les trains ont passé au rouge plus de cinq fois en huit ans… Pour la seule année 1988, on a comptabilisé 643 franchissements de feux rouges par les trains britanniques.
    This partly accounts for the fact that stop signals are frequently not observed: indeed the UK authority in charge of safety regulation has published a list of 22 stations where trains didn’t stop at the red light more than 5 times in 8 years… More than 643 occurrences of British trains non-complying with red lights have been reported in 1988 alone.

    Après l’accident de Clapham Junction en 1988 (35 morts et près de 500 blessés), le gouvernement avait pourtant promis d’installer des systèmes de sécurité ATP (Automatic Train Protection) sur les lignes principales.
    Following the Clapham Junction accident in 1988 (35 dead & close to 500 wounded), the UK government did indeed promise to fit out main lines with ATP (Automatic Train Protection) safety devices.

    Bien vite, il s’est avéré que le projet était trop coûteux pour les compagnies privées, d’autant moins tentées d’investir dans la sécurité que leurs contrats de franchise se terminent trois ou quatre ans plus tard.
    But sooner than later, it turned out that the ATP project was too high a cost for private companies, all the less likely to invest money in safety as their franchise patents (contracts?) were due to maturation within 3 or 4 years later.

    Sur le réseau britannique, les accidents ferroviaires se succèdent :
    Railroad accidents can be enumerated on the British network:
    <<>> <<>>
    Bellgrove (1989 : 2 morts, 40 blessés)
    Cannon Street (1991 : 2 morts, 248 blessés) Newton (1991 : 4 morts, 22 blessés)
    Cowden (1994 : 5 morts, 12 blessés)
    Southall (1997 : 7 morts)
    Hatfield (2000 : 4 morts, 35 blessés)
    Selby (2001 : 10 morts)
    Lincolnshire (2002 : 1 morts, 12 blessés)…

    Même la période de tournage de The Navigators n’a pas été épargnée par une catastrophe : le déraillement d’un train a provoqué quatre morts à Hatfield. Un rapport avait établi que les rails étaient défectueux et qu’aucune réparation n’avait été faite.
    Even the shooting of The Navigators was affected by a catastrophy: 4 died in Hatfield further to a train derailing. A report stated that the tracks were faulty & that they hadn’t been repaired.


  • Becky,

    At the risk of sounding condescending, that is by far your best comment to date. A lucid and rational argument with many good points.

    However, I am not sure a rail network is a ‘natural monopoly’ while other modes of transport exist as well. Even if a single company was to dominate a particular route they still face the ‘discipline’ of competition by road and air.

    Also, I am not persuaded by the national defence analogy. I think it is fair to expect rail users to pay the cost. Of course, a good rail network does benefit the wider community but then so does every and any other successful business so I don’t see why trains, in particular, deserve a subsidy from those who decide not to use them.

    Anyway, if you are at all interested you might want to have a look at Transport Blog where these issues are examined in much greater detail.

  • Kodiak


    English translation on request.
    English comments below.

    Après la Corée et l’Espagne, le train à grande vitesse conquiert maintenant l’Australie et Taïwan. Mais son développement reste limité en France, la population de l’Hexagone étant trop dispersée pour assurer sa rentabilité. Enquête.
    Il y a seulement un siècle, la Grande-Bretagne, forte de ses ingénieurs et de ses exportations, régnait en maître sur les chemins de fer de la planète. Depuis un mois, les Français, non contents de se hisser à la première place dans notre sport national, ont fait la preuve qu’ils étaient champions du monde en matière d’exportations ferroviaires. Le 4 août, le gouvernement australien a annoncé qu’il avait opté pour la technologie française de train à grande vitesse (TGV) pour la ligne Sydney-Canberra, longue de 270 kilomètres. Peu auparavant, Taïwan avait signé un contrat provisoire pour l’installation d’une ligne de TGV parcourant 300 kilomètres, soit la longueur de l’île, entre Taipei et Kaohsiung. Dans ces deux pays, la technologie et la main-d’oeuvre – sauf en ce qui concerne la mécanique lourde – seront essentiellement françaises. La SNCF espère assurer la gestion des deux réseaux.

    Le TGV français, né il y a dix-huit ans, ne s’est pas toujours si bien vendu à l’étranger. Mais, depuis quelques années, il a engrangé bien des succès. Choisi pour la liaison à grande vitesse Madrid-Séville, il a aussi été retenu, en principe, pour des destinations en Floride et au nord-est des Etats-Unis. Des projets sont aussi à l’étude en Chine et au Canada. Même la Grande-Bretagne a fini par se doter de sa première ligne de TGV – ce sera sans doute d’ailleurs la seule -, reliant le tunnel sous la Manche à la banlieue de Londres.

    Il y a cependant une sorte d’ironie amère dans la popularité croissante du TGV. Plébiscité à l’étranger, ce symbole de la maîtrise technologique française ne fait désormais plus l’unanimité dans l’Hexagone.

    Avec le TGV Paris-Lille, le trafic ferroviaire n’a crû que de 10 %

    Ainsi, la construction du tronçon Valence-Marseille dans la vallée du Rhône s’est heurtée à un fort mouvement de contestation, notamment de la part des défenseurs de l’environnement. Le TGV-Nord vers Lille, dont une ligne secondaire part vers le tunnel sous la Manche, n’a pas peu contribué au succès de l’Eurostar, mais les autres branches du TGV-Nord ne sont guère florissantes, étant donné le marasme économique qui frappe les villes du nord de la France. Le trafic ferroviaire entre Paris et Lille ne s’est accru que de 10 %, l’accès par autoroute étant relativement aisé.

    Encore inachevée, la ligne TGV-Ouest, devant desservir l’Ouest et le Sud-Ouest, reste encore trop courte pour être vraiment attrayante. Or, dans l’immédiat, il n’est pas question de la prolonger. Les énormes investissements consentis pour la construction des 800 kilomètres de lignes de TGV existantes – déroulant leurs tracés rectilignes à travers le pays, avec des déclivités importantes et peu de tunnels ou de courbes – ont été presque entièrement à la charge du contribuable. Un tel effort financier se justifiait du point de vue de la défense de l’environnement, du développement régional et surtout de la décentralisation, la France étant le pays le plus centralisé d’Europe. La première ligne, Paris-Lyon (480 kilomètres), a fait un véritable triomphe, écrasant la concurrence routière et aérienne. Un succès qui a incité la SNCF à lancer une nouvelle génération de TGV à étage destinés à accueillir un maximum de passagers. Les rames partent toutes les heures et parcourent le trajet en deux heures. Cette ligne est l’une des rares à être rentables pour la SNCF, si l’on ne tient pas compte du coût d’installation des voies.

    La branche Sud, qui va déjà jusqu’à Valence, apparaît comme un projet moins défendable. Une fois entièrement ouverte, cette ligne ramènera à trois heures et demie le trajet entre Paris et la Méditerranée. Mais elle ne devrait pas concurrencer l’avion vers Marseille et la Côte d’Azur. Le nouveau TGV est accusé de creuser une hideuse entaille dans une vallée du Rhône très encombrée, puisque déjà traversée par deux lignes de chemin de fer et une autoroute. Les Méridionaux affirment que le TGV-Sud ne profitera qu’aux vacanciers parisiens ; ils préféreraient que l’argent serve à accélérer les lignes côtières, d’une lenteur proverbiale (le trajet Marseille-Perpignan s’effectue en plus de trois heures).

    Ils n’ont sans doute pas tort. Si l’on en croit une étude officielle portant sur les avantages et les inconvénients du TGV, loin de décentraliser le pays, les voies rapides n’ont fait qu’attirer encore davantage de richesses, d’individus et d’influence en Ile-de-France. L’Hexagone est désormais coupé en deux, avec d’un côté une population urbaine aisée, habituée des TGV, et de l’autre des gens vivant à l’écart des grandes villes, qui se contentent de voir passer les wagons à très grande vitesse.

    Deux lignes sont prévues vers l’Alsace : merci, Mme Trautmann !

    Mais Strasbourg ne veut rien entendre. Cette ville, à 456 kilomètres à l’est de Paris, séparée de la capitale par toute une zone dépourvue d’agglomérations, n’a eu de cesse de réclamer son rattachement au réseau de TGV. Toutes les études, officielles ou non, indiquent qu’un tel projet serait un gouffre financier, à moins que les Allemands n’assurent un raccordement traversant le Rhin, mais cette perspective a été repoussée indéfiniment.

    Toutefois, le gouvernement Jospin a annoncé au mois de février qu’il lancerait la construction non pas d’une seule, mais de deux lignes vers l’Alsace : une liaison ouest-est allant jusqu’en Lorraine, pour un coût de 17,5 milliards de FF (payée à 90 % par le contribuable français), et sans doute une ligne nord-sud reliant Mulhouse à la vallée du Rhône. Le fait que la ministre de la Culture [Catherine Trautmann] soit l’ancien maire de Strasbourg n’est certainement pas étranger à cette décision, sans compter que le ministre communiste des Transports [Jean-Claude Gayssot] est un ancien cheminot.

    Taïwan et la Corée sont bien mieux adaptés au TGV que la France

    Quoi qu’il en soit, il pourrait s’agir des derniers grands chantiers de TGV d’ici à une bonne vingtaine d’années. Des études officielles font apparaître que les quelque 2 000 kilomètres de lignes TGV supplémentaires autrefois envisagés par la SNCF (pour un coût probable de 80 milliards de FF environ) ne se justifient pas du point de vue économique, d’autant qu’ils portent atteinte à l’environnement. En outre, les dépenses publiques françaises sont soumises aux nouvelles règles de l’Union monétaire européenne, ce qui devrait retarder la construction de nouvelles lignes ou d’embranchements vers la Bretagne, la Normandie, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Perpignan, Chambéry et Nice, ou encore la mise en place d’une ligne directe vers Calais.

    Voilà peut-être le comble du paradoxe. La France, patrie du TGV, est un pays trop grand, trop peu peuplé, à la population trop dispersée pour qu’un tel réseau puisse réellement fonctionner. Il a davantage sa place à Taïwan, en Corée ou au nord-est des Etats-Unis. Il est d’ailleurs un autre pays européen où le TGV aurait pu fonctionner à merveille, un pays où plus de la moitié de la population ne serait plus qu’à une heure de train de la capitale : la Grande-Bretagne.




  • Dave O'Neill

    I am not sure a rail network is a ‘natural monopoly’ while other modes of transport exist as well. Even if a single company was to dominate a particular route they still face the ‘discipline’ of competition by road and air.

    Taken as a whole system, that is certainly the case. As demonstrated by the marvellous effects of competition through low cost inter UK air travel.

    Also, showing how effective the channel tunnel is at competing with airlines for London-Paris.

    On the other hand, I’d argue that the entire London transportation network ought to be considered a natural monopoly, and also, perhaps commuter train routes where flying isn’t practical – London out to Bristol, Birmingham, South Coast etc.

    Effective transportation inside London is of such essential economic and commercial importance to the nation’s economy that it really ought to get more attention.

    think it is fair to expect rail users to pay the cost. Of course, a good rail network does benefit the wider community but then so does every and any other successful business so I don’t see why trains, in particular, deserve a subsidy from those who decide not to use them.

    What alternatives do you propose for the people who live in the commuter belts around London. I lived in Surbiton for 2 years commuting to the City. I would have loved a practical alternative to the train, I can’t for the life of me think of one.

  • Kodiak

    In the English comments, please read “Northeastern USA”, NOT “Northwestern USA”.

    Glad you accept Becky’s sound point of view.
    Typical European Nation-State train networks may be assimilated to “natural monopolies” to the extent that no European country is big enough to add up to a regional market according to world standards. In a small town, there can be a water utility monopoly (private or State-owned) since it would be absurd for 20 different companies to compete for tiny turnover & ridiculous potential profits. That’s the system of concession. Company A is allocated the A part of the country (continuous or discontinuous in term of space), company B is allocated the B part etc. The allocation may be definite or changing according to competition performance. That’s another debate. The thing is: avoid further division of what’s already minuscule. That’s perhaps why the UK train system is such a mess and why this famous experience is studied everywhere in the world as the most perfect example of what shouldn’t be replicated under no circumstances…

    UK train system is the result of opting for Ayatollah-like way of thinking (Reaganomics, Thatcherism, Neocons etc) rather than choosing simple common sense >>> State-ownership or privatised monopoly with strict control over possible misuse of business commanding position.


  • Becky

    David writes:

    “However, I am not sure a rail network is a ‘natural monopoly’ while other modes of transport exist as well. Even if a single company was to dominate a particular route they still face the ‘discipline’ of competition by road and air.”

    The point about a monopoly isn’t that there are no alternatives; after all, the Standard Oil monopoly didn’t stop people using horse and cart. The point is that a monopoly eliminates competition within the confines of a particular infrastructure. Sure, if Connex bought the tube and decided it was easier and more profitable to make it so expensive that only rich people could use it, everyone else would get by somehow with bicycles or jogging or whatever. And it would still be a monopoly.

    “I think it is fair to expect rail users to pay the cost. Of course, a good rail network does benefit the wider community but then so does every and any other successful business so I don’t see why trains, in particular, deserve a subsidy from those who decide not to use them.”

    I take it, then, that you’re in favour of road tolls, pollution taxes, etc. I think there’s a qualitative difference between the way successful businesses benefit the wider community (and not just their direct customers) and the enormous generalised benefits of an efficient transport infrastructure. But above all, I just don’t believe a system which placed the entire financial burden on passengers would actually work. I think there’s a threshold at which public transport becomes so expensive that people just can’t afford to use it. I think the London area is already getting pretty close to that threshold, and that’s including the massive subsidy that London Transport and south-east train companies already get.

  • I love these sections of French comment! Aren’t we getting cosmopolitan!?

    Becky decides (perhaps wisely) not to reply to my earlier point that Connex freely chose to invest in this region and sector, and had plenty of chance to check in advance what they were buying. Therefore Becky’s analysis of their failure shows Connex managers are incompetent at investing, market analysis and due diligence, supporting Gabriel’s original point about French management.

    Phil makes an interesting point about subsidised land covered by rail infrastructure, forgetting that roads cover far more land and are subsidised far more (since – central London very recently excepted) there has been no road-use-based charging in the fifty-year record of post-war British roadbuilding and maintenance. Any calculation shows that road surface is heavily underpriced (or there would be no traffic jams), and I suspect road surface is a lot more heavily underpriced than rail surface.

  • A_t

    mark… seeing as most of the other train companies in the UK are presumbly British, and still deliver near-universal shite service, does this mean UK managers are equally abysmal?

  • Yes, A_t, absolutely. That was Gabriel’s original point – not that French rail managers are worse, but that they are no better.

  • Becky

    Mark, I more or less agree with you about Connex. No company in its right mind should have got involved in a disastrous piecemeal privatisation that was bound to go wrong. The fault is twofold: the Major government should never have gone ahead with the privatisation, and Connex (nor any other company) should never have got involved. Connex no doubt acted incompetently, perhaps more so than other rail operators, but it is a spectacular jump to say that this supports a general point about French management. Does Enron’s collapse support a general point about U.S. management? Or does it say something more about the corporate culture of Enron in particular?

  • Kodiak

    Dear Mark,

    Rest assured I too feel a bit amused as I am visiting this extremely exotic Jurassic Park infested with Crétacéic & Devonian “ideas” consisting mainly in intellectual masturbation (excuse my French!) about something rather obvious: the English are totally unskilled as far as train network management is concerned. I’m afraid that’s an inescapable & recognised fact…

    Maybe instead of wondering if subsidised privatisation works better than unsubsidised unprivatisation, you should perhaps invest in employee training, in new tracks, in working computers, in new trains & take some lessons from your very much impressed friends on the Continent…

    Chanting sweet tunes about how things should be done is fine. Having things actually & propperly done is certainly something of a different nature…

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the total stupidity of the French people who were foolish enough to spend one single centime of euro in the bateau îvre (drunken boat) called SE train system or Connex or whatever. That’s absolute & sheer ignorance.

    I’m still awaiting an answer about the management of London Electricity. Is it a mess too? Is it acceptable? Is it outsmarting?

    Thanx for your help.


  • The general point Gabriel made about French management, Becky, was not that it was worse at running railways, but no better than British managers. This point of Gabriel’s is supported by – as you and I agree – a number of companies, some French, some British – equally failing to correctly assess how difficult it would be to run South-East-England rail services well and profitably.

    I’m not sure rail privatisation should not have been attempted, because I don’t think it’s a natural monopoly – but we agree again, I suspect, that privatising South-East-England rail services was and is very very difficult and/or expensive.

    Don’t forget people used to think telephones were a natural monopoly – even the first Thatcher government – which is why we lost the chance to take a ten-year world lead in mobile phones by liberalising in 1979 ….which would have meant we would now have a British firm today in the position Nokia is in.

    My view is that the South/East/England rail region combines some inefficiences dating from nationalisation (work practices) and some inefficiencies dating from the original private-sector track-planning (the unconnected yet adjacent four grand termini at Euston, St Pancras, King’s Cross, and Liverpool Street all built by competing Victorian companies who co-operated with the greatest reluctance, for example).

    A government which built some track correcting some Victorian privately-caused inefficiencies to indirectly compensate the system for the damage imposed by decades of socialist management might have made privatisation work.

    I’d like to have seen a tunnel under London linking all the great termini (and one under Manchester enabling trains to go between the similarly isolated M.Victoria, M.Piccadilly, and M.Central {now ‘G-Mex’} stations would have been very worthwhile). A government that could do that would, sadly, be ideologically unlikely to then allow competition to supply services on a larger and more rationally-interconnected network, however.

    The two types of politician are often not even on speaking terms.

  • Sorry Kodiak, I overlooked your point about London Electricity.

    I don’t live in London and rather dislike the place, so I don’t know what it’s like in terms of electricity coverage. Is it bad? Are prices high and service poor? If they were very high, I would expect large firms to be able to run the new generation of mini-power stations which can fit in the basement of an office block and supply their own power needs by flexibly buying gas, oil or mains electricity as prices changed.

    As long as goverment didn’t ban them from doing that, of course.

  • Kodiak

    Dear Mark,

    In other words, if I sum up your latest post, the reason why UK train system is a world-class failure lies in history.

    You’re perfectly right.

    The lack of sustained, structured, long-term vision & the sprinkling of meagre financial means over here & over there, according to diverging management short-term “policies” may well account for the present-day amazing counter-performance in terms of customer satisfaction.

    That’s why a State-owned alternative on a long-term basis (not for 2 days) isn’t that stupid…


  • T. Hartin

    I don’t know if there has ever been a “natural monopoly” spotted in the wild. It is extremely rare, if not completely unheard of, for any organization to maintain a monopoly position for any length of time without significant state support.

    One “natural monopoly” after another has been taken off the public teat in many countries (airlines in the US, telephones in the US and elsewhere, electricity in parts of the US) and, lo and behold, no new monopolist has arisen to control the market once the government’s barriers to entry were removed. Full privatisation of natural monopolies works every time it has been tried, as far as I know (and no, the California power “deregulation” debacle was not full privatisation and does not count as a counterexample).

    If anything, we have learned that former “natural monopolies” like airlines and phone service turn into brutally competitive markets with rapidly falling prices and expanding service once the helpful hand of government protection is removed.

    Based on this history, I tend to regard any claim of natural monopoly as a pretext for government control rather than an empirical claim about the way the world works.

  • Well, maybe, Kodiak…. except that I think the vision of nationally-run railways was pretty long-term between the Second World War and the 1990s. No government even half-considered reprivatising railways between 1940 and 1960. Isn’t that quite long-term enough to show how well state rail-management works?

    I would say not history is to blame, but a general blindness on what ‘inefficiency’ means. If state planners are so clever, why did they not think in half a century of building those tunnels I mentioned? Because they were not thinking of rail passengers as customers, and no-one asked rail customers if they would like to not have to change trains between termini half a mile apart in city centres. There’s an ideological problem here, because Beeching is seen as ‘private-sector’ in thinking, but state planners have and had to cost and justify spending everywhere, even in the Soviet Union. The Beeching cuts of infrastructure were a classic state-planning mistake coming directly from what state planners always have far too much of – grand vision.

    I lost you on the London Electricity point. Where were you going with that? Sounded interesting.

  • Kodiak


    I didn’t get the whole stuff of yours regarding State planners & the story between 60s & 90s. Never mind. No big deal.

    What I think is grosso modo the following: either there’s a head (a well thought-one I mean) that’s been accompanying, creating & sustaining consistent development & effeciciency for decades, or there’s an seven-headed hydra doing & undoing the same things with the purpose of implementing an amphigoric theory (Thatcherism, Reaganomics…) that is just able to deliver chaos & deplorable service.

    London Electricity belongs to EDF (a French State-owned utility of the same sort as SNCF for rail transportation).
    Is LE performing as bad as Connex? >>> there’s a curse on French business in the UK.
    Or is it performing well?


  • Liberty Belle

    Mark – I don’t know about London electricity, but electricity in the UK at large is pretty reasonably priced. Unlike the state-owned, bureaucratic French electricity company which, of course, has no competition and is staffed by functionaries awaiting their retirement at 50. French electricity is freakily expensive, especially considering France has a lot of hydro power. It’s also interesting that the French electricity company can sell electricity to English electricity companies which sell it on to their customers, all for less than the consumer in France is strong-armed into paying.

  • Kodiak

    Yessssssssss !!!

    That was another Liberty Belle unbiased contribution.

    Thanx for that LB.

    BTW >>> why don’t you try a French psychoanalyst? You know: evil can cure evil…


  • Dave O'Neill

    French electricity is freakily expensive, especially considering France has a lot of hydro power.

    Actually, only 13% of French electrical power is hydro. The vast majority (77%) is generated by Nuclear means. This more than explains the cost issues.

    I don’t recal French power being all that expensive really – they make up for it in other means through central water and heating services for appartment complexes and things that are rare in the UK.

  • I get your London Electricity idea now, Kodiak. I still don’t know what their service is like – perhaps it’s good, perhaps it’s bad. But as Gabriel’s original point was that claims of French superiority in rail management are undermined by the Connex affair, it doesn’t make much difference either way.

    Sorry if I was confusing about Beeching and British state rail planners. I understand you see a clearer-minded long-term vision in French state rail planning, and persumably lots more state money spent too?

    So if equal amounts of British state subsidies went to rail in Britain, would the results be worse, better or the same as in France, do you think Kodiak? (You do know that France has twice as much land per citizen as Britain, making projects – like rail-track expansion – involving building on land simpler and cheaper there?)

  • Kodiak


    I’m positive that the ones who created & developped trains in the XIXth century are guaranteed to be more than successful with trains system management:

    1/ weren’t it for this absurd worshipping of extremist ideas like privatisation just for the sake of it

    2/ provided they put their heads under cold -very cold- water & return to more usual pragmatism.

    I don’t see why the UK should necessarily fail where France & Germany are succeeding.

    OK such long-term infrastrucure projects require big money & a great deal of time, but where’s the problem?

    You know it should be harder for France than for Germany or the UK to deliver basic infrastructure skeletton & customer service on top of that. Why? Because each time we build -say- a 100-km line, at least 70 km of this line are left for the cows to watch >>> the country is not Holland, it’s not densified enough. So a 100-km line will just link 2 distant cities, whereas it could link perhaps 3 or 4 cities in the UK (I may be exxagerating, but the idea is fair). So OK you need the same amount of money & energy to get a line built, but the return in the UK is more likely to be faster & greater than in France.

    What I mean is that out of ideological reasons (disguised in mainstream pragmatism & neocons orthodoxy), the UK, which should be the best European in train industry, is just the worst pupil of the classroom.

    It’s not only sad. It’s stupid because you can change everything.


  • OK, interesting, Kodiak (and rather sweetly phrased). Do you like that German 19th-century economist List?

    Anyway, I’m thinking about your point. It seems that to my previous question, you answered ‘better’. I’m pondering what you say seriously!

  • Kodiak


    I’m not too versed in history of economic ideas.

    Well, I googled List & found out his astonishing bio. What a tragedy for a human destiny…

    So List wanted to abolish tariffs & barriers within the Prussian-led economic space, maybe thus anticipating the Zollverein. He fled to the US in 1825 to avoid Prussian castigation for his innovating ideas. He even ended up US consul in Leipzig (what an irony!!!) 5 years later.

    If I understand well, he was a free-marketer within the German segment & a State-conscious militant within the European world. That cost him his nationality & fair recognition from his peers, before he committed suicide.

    What’s also ironic is that he started as a civil servant & later moved as a prof in economics in the famous Tübingen university.

    So he knew very different countries as GB, Fr, USA & Switzerland.

    So basically List was advocating the big-still-friendly role of the State as pioneering, growing & sustaining industry network. Brazil resorted to that kind of policy in the 50s to launch what’s now estimated a relevent industry. So did India with the Green Revolution. That’s also what France did with nuclear, trains, planes, space etc stuff from 1945 up to today. Maybe it’s also what Clinton & Bush were doing by subsidising the declining steel industry in Pittsburgh or Buffalo or somewhere in Ohio (out of ideological heresy or more well-understood electorate reasons?).

    Well too bad this guy can’t come back & have a say in the neocons-monopolised inflating debate…