01 May 2012
Recently heard a fascinating talk by a continental IT systems provider who are relatively new to the rail industry. They said they were amazed by the lack of standardisation right across the industry. Everything has to be bespoke, designed afresh and dovetailed together. Lego was used as an analogy – everything in Legoland, down to the smallest thing a dove, made of four bricks, is compatible. Why can’t transport systems be like this? Britain seems to have a particular problem with this. We already have narrower trains – generally continental ones don’t fit. So what do we then do? Design ever more bespoke trains with small production runs and chronic maintenance problems. Why can’t we have a range like Ford cars all built on similar lines? Because there are tremendous vested interests that benefit from everything being different. The results? Poor passenger and taxpayer value for money. The European Union has long been battling to introduce more standardisation to help promote competition. Maybe this is one case where mandating straight carrots might be good!