Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Use a Time Slot Method for Train Travel

News comes today about First Great Western agreeing to a remedial plan to, well, operate a dependable train service. Rail franchises create a government granted monopoly on a rail line in exchange for meeting certain conditions. It is how the UK government decide to privatise rail travel.

I think rail franchises are the wrong way to organise the delivery of train services. Instead rail lines should be divided into time slots that a company bid for. Obviously lucrative spots would be bid higher and less lucrative spots would be less expensive. The idea is to create system like landing slots at airports. This would allow various train companies to compete on the same line which would drive prices lower and also increase the number of services.

Part of rail franchises sometimes includes revamping railway stations. This could still be done using with time slots by directing the money from the auction of the slots into track and station improvements and/or also charge a "standing fee" for each train.

Monopolies are a bad way to deliver a service. Competition will do more to improve train service particularly if the slots are auction for periods of between 1 to 5 years and any single company cannot by two (three?) consecutive slots so that a user has a choice of waiting for the next train.

The main hurdle to slot base method is the management of arrivals. Systems will need to be in place for dealing with late trains - perhaps by moving them off into holding points until a slot is free.

Tags: Rail Franchise, Rail, UK, Transport