What is the point of a rail regulator if he can't regulate?

St Albans rail commuters endured yet another wretched Monday morning journey to work yesterday morning as overhead wire problems stopped trains running through London. It beggars belief that rail subsidies are now five times higher than they were pre-privatisation. There’s not even the excuse of snow. Last week I attended a roundtable discussion with Bill Emery, Chief Executive of the Office of Rail Regulation, the man in charge of regulating Britain’s railways. It was very illuminating.

I asked him what power he had to stop First Capital Connect from price-gouging St Albans commuters given that the annual season price had gone up by 8 percent – above the six percent agreed average rate – on fares that were already more expensive than for any equivalent length commuter journey into London. He said that he had very little power unless the abuse of monopoly power was really serious.

He was quite clear that the level of rail subsidy differs from region to region as a matter of government policy. So St Albans commuters are paying over the odds just because First Capital Connect paid an absurdly high ‘premium’ for the monopoly franchise and then have virtual freedom to squeeze the travelling public. It just shows what a flawed model rail privatisation has been.

PS One of those present commented that in his day the regulator on a locomotive had a quite different purpose. At least it served one.

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