Looking at Monday’s Panorama programme again was a dispiriting experience. It had all the faults of modern TV documentaries with much emphasis on personal stories and nice pictures but very little substance. The message was incredibly muddled and anyone not versed in the issues would have struggled to understand what on earth was going on. It failed to explain propely the background, merely allowing numerous passengers to moan rather, as they are wont to do.
The choice of heroes and villains was arbitrary. For example, the portrayal of Chiltern Rail as a beacon of private enteprise fail to mention the fact that it was only able to invest because these expansions were taken into account during franchise negotiations. I’m not decrying Adrian Shooter, who has done a great job, but merely pointing out it is more complicated than merely saying Network Rail was bad, Chiltern Rail good. David Higgins actually gave a good account of himself but what was he supposed to say when he was pressed about Reading, a project going smoothly but not finished. Of course it might overrun, but it might cost less than expected, too.
I suspect, too, that the woman from the Office of Rail Regulation, who did look completely daft, was somewhat set up. She should have stopped the interview, sorted out the issue and come back.
Then there were the punters who came across as pretty self-serving. Well, yes they may be paying quite a lot, but, say, the guy from Wellington to Birmingham is paying only £1,500 which works at at just £7 50 per day for a 60 mile journey. Not cheap, but not exorbitant, either, and far quicker than on the congested roads.
I am not saying that the railway does not deserve criticism. God knows, I doll out the brickbats myself at times. But just that there was no structure to the way this programme was written or presented. The documentary tried to raise too many issues but did not have the time to examine any of them properly. There was no serious investigation of where the money goes – Rugby was an example already used by Dispatches and difficult to pin down – or a critique of the structure that results in the extra costs. It was just a shambolic mess making random points without a coherent structure. Rather like the railway itself, in fact.