The madness of micromanagement

One of the great ironies of rail privatisation is that the rail industry is under far stricter control from outside forces than it ever was when it was a nationalised industry. Recent events, such as the fines imposed on both Network Rail and First Great Western have reinforced that view.
Yesterday, Chris Bolt rail regulator announced the way that Crossrail paths would be allocated once the scheme is completed some time at the back end of the next decade. Broadly, he accepted the application by the Department of Transport and Network Rail for most of the paths, though he reserved his decision on two daily paths at each end of the new line as there was no business case for so many trains.
This though is the madness of the way that the industry is being micromanaged by outside forces. Frankly, it is nigh on impossible to judge what the London commuter market will look like in 15 years time. The impact of just a few factors – say, growth patterns, the use of technology, the impact of global warming, possible terrorist attacks – shows that such calculations are based on wholly contestable assumptions.
The words ‘business case’ send a shudder down my spine every time I see them used. It is a pseudo science that pulls the wool over the eyes of politicians and business people alike. You only have to look at the ex post facto results of previous ‘business cases’ to show that they are largely a convenient fiction to mask a series of value judgement. For example, the case for the PPP for the London Underground was built on precisely this type of assumption and look what happened to Metronet. How do we know that will not be the case with Crossrail?

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