Rail disaster

Jackie Ashley (7 January), neatly brings out the huge paradox in the government's current attitude to the railways - it is seeking to exercise responsibilities that it patently does not have. The transport minister John Spellar's recent laudable statements of intent to do this and that with the trains are a logical nonsense. At best, he has influence, but certainly no power.

Under the system that the government has so far defended, private firms, not ministers, are responsible for both railway infrastructure and operations. But it is responsibility without public accountability. Virgin Trains may have some obligation to get me to my destination on time if I buy a ticket, but it has no obligation to my neighbour who may never travel by train but nevertheless wishes to have a decent rail system. The fledgling Strategic Rail Authority is no answer either, because it has no teeth.

Robin Wendt

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2002 issue of the New Statesman, A kosher conspiracy?