South West Trains and buck passing

The chocolate / crisp vending machine at Bath Spa train station took my pound coin. I've got a Pavlovian reaction to being on the platform, I buy a Bounty bar. This time it took my pound coin and without thinking I lost another £1.10 trying to dislodge the first pound coin. The notice on the machine said not to complain to the station staff if the machine wasn't working, so I complained to the station staff. They said it wasn't anything to do with them (South West Trains). However, they were pretty good about it and put an 'out of order' note on the machine.

It seems to me that this is a microcosm of the buck passing you see on the railways as a whole. The rail companies should take full responsibility for everything that happens on the railways, from vending machines to accidents. To achieve this, the train operating companies should own Network Rail.


  1. Yes, that's true, nationalizing it would put an end to buck passing. The problem is that it would also put an end to competition, and competition drives standards up and prices down. It also puts the government in the nice position of being able to regulate the industry without having to run it.

    In general I think it's becoming clear in all fields that government is best at regulating and lawmaking, leaving private enterprise to actually provide the service.

  2. "drives standards up and prices down"! That hasn't worked very well, has it?

    I like your idea about government leaving private enterprise to it, but what happens when it's just not up to the job? Do you bail it out with public money - like with Railtrack and Northern Rock?

  3. Well, UK trains are among the cheapest in Europe if you include subsidies.

    But the main thing is that privatization only works if it's done well. I think UK rail was botched, so we're not really seeing all the benefit we could.

    I think you're right on the 'bailing out' point, we shouldn't bail out private companies.

  4. Subsidies or not... My friend just spent a week travelling from country to country by train in Eastern Europe and the most he paid for a ticket was £12 - from Belgrade to Zagreb. Capital to capital within the UK would be almost ten times that!

    And I didn't say we shouldn't bail out private companies - just that we should be aware of the consequences of privatisation. If Northern Rock hadn't been bailed out large parts of the north of England's population would have lost both their savings and their homes. If Railtrack hadn't been bailed out the railways would only be used by wildlife now. Both unthinkable, but a logical conclusion to 'leaving things to the market'.

  5. The bailing out of Northern Rock was a misuse of taxpayer's money. The FSA aleady guarantees the first £2,000 and then 90% up to £33,000 of any deposits. The further guarantees that the bank was making just makes it more likely that banks will be even more reckless in the future. If a bank is badly run, it must be allowed to fail. People with over £33,000 shouldn't be protected by the taxpayer, they are investors, and investments sometimes fail.

    I don't know how mortgage holders are affected. I expect the mortgages would be sold to another company and things would carry on as before.

  6. But...

    South West Trains don't operate Bath Spa station.

  7. I looked it up and you're right! Bath Spa is managed by First Great Western. I could have sworn they said Southwest Trains. Ah well...