Given that we are now throwing piles of money at the banks, and not really knowing what we are getting for it, the same thing has been going on in the rail industry for ages. I am in one of my inquisitive moods, trying to ascertain exactly how the financing of the train operators works in order to be able to pronounce on it when one goes down.
For that I need to know what the track access charges are for each company and how much they pay or receive in compensation annually. One would have thought these figures were easily available. Track access charges are set by the Office of Rail Regulation and therefore there should be a table on their website. After a fruitless search, i rang the press office and after some delay was told that no, the framework is set by the ORR, but the precise sums are subject to variations according to the number and weight of trains operated, and therefore the figures are not available.
Ditto the compensation figures. I was spurred onto this because the compensation regime is ridiculous. A young manager in a train operator told me that the best thing to happen to their bottom line is when Network Rail fail to hand over the tracks after a weekend possession because they received huge amounts of dosh in compensation payments. But I asked the Department for Transport for figures – they are, after all what used to be the franchising director – but again, they do not have the figures.
Rest assured, I have put enquiries out with both Network Rail and the ORR, but it should not be this difficult. It is, after all, largely our money. Watch this space