Demise of Wrexham Shropshire destroys open access

The sudden abandonment of the Wrexham & Shropshire train service, started less than three years ago, is another nail in the coffin for the idea that open access has any relevance to today’s rail network. It leaves just Grand Central and Hull Trains, both on the East Coast and little likelihood of any new arrivals in the near future.

Wrexham & Shropshire was a great little service, a kind of throwback to the best of British Rail but it never made any money and was hampered by the ridiculous constraints such as not being allowed to offer a full service at Wolverhampton or stop at Coventry. The whole paraphernalia of the open access rules actually mitigates against their very purpose of stimulating innovation. Other entrants are bound to be deterred by what happened to Wrexham & Shropshire.

I originally wrote here that ‘its fate was sealed once it ended up, along with Chiltern in the hands of Deutsche Bahn as effectively the German railway was competing  against itself, especially as it now also owns Arriva which runs CrossCountry and Wales’.  In fact, this has been pointed out to me as a mistake. Chiltern’s parent company – originally  Laing and now DB – always had a fifty per cent stake in the operation and invested much of the required set up costs. Rather, the problem was that, as many people predicted, there was no money in the service and it lost £2.8m in the last financial year. It was not helped, of course, by the opposition of Virgin and the regulator’s insistence in limiting its stops.

Nevertheless, the way it has been announced – or rather the way the news leaked out – was shocking.  Apparently staff had been told last night and then this morning started telling passengers who passed it on to BBC Radio Shropshire. Does DB not realise that in these days of 24/7 news, you have to be more open? The poor passengers left standing on the intermediate stations while the train went through without a crew and therefore not picking anyone up will not have been impressed with DB’s behaviour. It gave Virgin a field day in announcing that it would rescue the ‘stranded’ passengers, though that of course is a better response than refusing to honour their tickets!

  • Allan Hedley

    Jayne was correct in her statement that basically John Welsby (out going chairman of BR) and the entire BR board was walked over by the conservatives in trying to design a structure for the break up. It made my blood boil listening to non-railwaymen telling the professionals how this should be done. And even now 17years on government boys who want to play trains interfering in the industry.

  • Absolutely, Allan and Jayne – the Tories deliberately avoided talking to BR after a famous meeting in Marsham Street hosted by John Macgregor, the then transport secretary, at which BR’s top 30 or so managers were asked about the privatisation plans and unanimously said that they were unworkable, and suggested other ways of doing it. That was not the message he wanted to hear and it was the last time they were consulted.
    It’s all in my On the Wrong Line book, now sadly out of print but available in libraries.

  • P Hanson

    Anybody who stated that the Coservatives plans were unworkable were sidlined, not only on the railways but also the other nationalised industries. It was the yes men that got the top positions.
    I expect the W& M stock will be used on the Birmingham – London service

  • Dan

    Rapid – is their a risk the patient might die before seeking the necessary treatment – maybe it’s possible – or certainly have to have some amputations?….

  • Peter

    This business failure really kicks away any notion that the disfunctional structure of Britain’s railways is “worth it”.

    We were supposed to put up with all the separate (and feuding) companies, money wasting regulators (nice work if you can get it) and parasitical lawyers all for the sake of this “competition”.

    And now that we have this vertically disntegrated structure, what is it in aid of?

    In any rational world the death of Wrexham snd Shropshire woudl signal the end of “privatisation”. But there’s no evidence yet that the Tories are any more rational than they were in the mid-1990s.

    Why doesn’t someone have the nouse to put this crazy expensive structure out of its misery before it kills off the railways?

    Because make no mistake, when they come looking for cuts the huge subsidies that go into rail will be early candidates for the axe.

  • W J Hall

    Is there more to this than just commercial failure in the Welsh Marches? Le Monde recently had an article implying that DB were taking a lot of flak in the Bundestag for the state or railways in Germany, and being urged to concentrate on running their own shop rather than become an international colossus.

    Will we shortly realise that we have stopped hearing talk of DB services from Frankfurt to London?

  • Christian Schmidt

    > Does DB not realise that in these days of 24/7 news, you have to be more open?

    Heck, what do you expect? DB is effectively a cross between BR (though with more money) and a mediocre multi-national. Neither was/is well know for quality public information.

    OH, and W J Hall is absolutely right, DB have been getting flak about the state of the railways in Germany. Their German long-distance service are still very good (high quality, fast and quite cheap) and I think Frankfurt – London will come, but they are losing more and more regional tenders, and there is always the possibility that the federal government will try to cash in by selling the freight and logistics arm or all foreign subsidiaries.

  • RapidAssistant

    Peter – as I alluded to in my painful “post” above; I reckon armageddon will have to happen before ministers finally see sense that under the current arrangements, there is no real advantage of having any private sector involvement at all.

    All pointers at the moment seems like they are hell bent on continuing the franchise system as before, but with more radical surgery being done on Network Rail. Fair enough, but my fear is that because the railways require so much subsidy to keep afloat, any attempt to try and make cuts right at the heart of the industry could compromise safety, or reverse the trend of passenger growth that we’ve seen.

    With reference to the “service culture” thread, any more attempts to squeeze the pips out of the franchises will only mean these horror stories of jobsworthing, silly (and unworkable) rules, and maltreatment of passengers will only get more frequent.