The train derailment at Hatfield in October 2000, which cost four lives, prompted a national rethink about the state of Britain’s railways. The crash has been followed by months of near-paralysis on the system, and has put privatization under the spotlight as never before.
Off the Rails looks at the disastrous consequences of private ownership for Britain’s railway network and makes the case for the restoration of the system to public control. It traces the history of the privatization process from think-tanks to legislation, and how British Rail came to be sold off in a hurry in one hundred different pieces by the Major government, despite public hostility. It looks at the complex structure of the privately-owned rail industry and identifies the main players, showing how they have failed to work in the public interest. It explains the conflicting roles of the various regulators, and adds up money made for shareholders at the taxpayers’ expense in an industry which combines public subsidy with private profit.
Written by an author deeply involved in the industry, Off the Rails draws extensively on the testimony of those who work on the railways—the train drivers, maintenance workers, signalers, station staff and passengers’ representatives. The Hatfield crash was the final straw for the public reputation of the fragmented railway. The run-up to the disaster and the chaos afterward are examined in detail, as are the limitations of the political response from New Labour. Off the Rails is also a call for change. The book looks at how public ownership could be reintroduced and considers other alternatives for renewing the railways. It also draws on experience in other parts of the world to make the case that only the restoration of the railways as a public service can guarantee the safe and reliable service which passengers expect.