A government white paper published last week painted a picture of a railway system hobbled by the byzantine structures created since privatisation.
The system now has almost 400 full-time staff called “train delay attributers” whose job it is to argue with each other about assigning blame for a delay. Nearly half of delays are subject to this blame game, meaning they have to go through an extensive adjudication process involving a 199-page principles and rules document.
The most bizarre dispute of recent years involved a debate about who was to blame for a train hitting a peacock. If it was defined as a small bird, then the company driving the train was responsible: if it was categorised as a large bird, then the blame went to the operator of the tracks. The two sides ended up haggling over whether peacocks were bigger than geese. (The answer: a peacock is a “large bird”.)