The Great Train Robbery

I had a twitter fight few days back with a gentleman and the article is a result of that fight. Sadly, I do not know the name of the gentleman as he goes via a psuedo name and then again I’ve not taken permission from him to quote him in either way. So I will just state the observations I was able to make from the conversations we had. As people who read this blog regularly would know, I am and have been against Railway Privatization which is happening in India. And will be sharing some of the case studies from other countries as to how it panned out for them.

UK Railways


How Privatization Fails : Railways

The Above video is by a gentleman called Shaun who basically shared that privatization as far as UK is concerned is nothing but monopolies and while there are complex reasons for the same, the design of the Railways is such that it will always be a monopoly structure. At the most what you can do is have several monopolies but that is all that can happen. The idea of competition just cannot happen. Even the idea that subsidies will be less or/and trains will run on time is far from fact. Both of these facts have been checked and found to be truthful by fullfact.org. It is and argued that UK is small and perhaps it doesn’t have the right conditions. It is probably true but still we do deserve to have a glance at the UK railway map.

UK railway map with operators
UK railway map with operators

The above map is copyrighted to Map Marketing where you could see it today . As can be seen above most companies had their own specified areas. Now if you had looked at the facts then you would have seen that UK fares have been higher. In fact, an oldish article from Metro (a UK publication) shares the same. In fact, UK nationalized its railways effectively as many large rail operators were running in red. Even Scotland is set to nationalised back in March 2022. Remember this is a country which hasn’t seen inflation go upwards of 5% in nearly a decade. The only outlier was 2011 where they indeed breached the 5% mark. So from this, what we see is ‘Private Gains’ and “Private Gains Public Losses’ perhaps seem fit. But then maybe we didn’t use the right example. Perhaps Japan would be better. They have bullet trains while UK is still thinking about it. (HS2).

Japanese Railway

Below is the map of Japanese Railway

Railway map of Japan with ‘private ownership’ – courtesy Wikimedia commons

Japan started privatizing its railway in 1987 and to date it has not been fully privatized. And on top of it, amount as much as ¥24 trillion of the long-term JNR debt was shouldered by the government at the expense of taxpayers of Japan while also reducing almost 1/4th of it employees. To add to it, while some parts of Japanese Railways did make profits, many of them made profits by doing large-scale non-railway business mostly real estate of land adjacent to railway stations. In many cases, it seems this went all the way up to 60% of the revenue. The most profitable has been the Shinkansen though. And while it has been profitable, it has not been without safety scandals over the years, the biggest in recent years was the 2005 Amagasaki derailment. What was interesting to me was the Aftermath, while the Wikipedia page doesn’t share much, I had read at the time and probably could be found how a lot of ordinary people stood up to the companies in a country where it is a known fact that most companies are owned by the Yakuza. And this is a country where people are loyal to their corporation or company no matter what. It is a strange culture to west and also here in India where people change jobs on drop of hat, although nowadays we have record unemployment. So perhaps Japan too does not meet our standard as it doesn’t do competition with each other but each is a set monopoly in those regions. Also how much subsidy is there or not is not really transparent.

U.S. Railways

Last, but not the least I share the U.S. Railway map. This is provided by A Mr. Tom Alison on reddit on channel maporn. As the thread itself is archived and I do not know the gentleman concerned, nor have taken permission for the map, hence sharing the compressed version –


U.S. Railway lines with the different owners

Now the U.S. Railways is and has always been peculiar as unlike the above two the U.S. has always been more of a freight network. Probably, much of it has to do that in the 1960’s when oil was cheap, the U.S. made zillions of roadways and romanticized the ‘road trip’ and has been doing it ever since. Also the creation of low-cost airlines definitely didn’t help the railways to have more passenger services, in fact the opposite.

There are and have been smaller services and attempts of privatization in both New Zealand and Australia and both have been failures. Please see papers in that regard. My simple point is this, as can be seen above, there have been various attempts at privatization of railways and most of them have been a mixed bag. The only one which comes close to what we think as good is Japanese but that also used a lot of public debt which we don’t know what will happen on next. Also for higher-speed train services like a bullet train or whatever, you need to direct, no hair pen bends. In fact, a good talk on the topic is the TBD podcast which while it talks about hyperloop, the same questions is and would be asked if were to do in India. Another thing to be kept in mind is that the Japanese have been exceptional builders and this is because they have been forced to. They live in a seismically active zone which made Fukushima disaster a reality but at the same time, their buildings are earthquake-resistant.

Standard Disclaimer – The above is a simplified version of things. I could have added in financial accounts but that again has no set pattern. For e.g. some Railways use accrual, some use cash and some use hybrid. I could have also shared in either the guage or electrification but all have slightly different standards, although uniguage is something that all Railways aspire for and electrification is again something that all Railways want although in many cases it just isn’t economically feasible.

Indian Railways

Indian Railways itself recently made the move from Cash to Accrual couple of years back. In-between for a couple of years, it was hybrid. The sad part is and was you can now never measure against past performance in the old way because it is so different. Hence, whether the Railways will be making a loss or a profit, we would come to know only much later. Also, most accountants don’t know the new system well, so it is gonna take more time, how much unknown. Sadly, what GOI did a few years back is merge the Railway budget into the Union Budget. Of course, the excuse they gave is too many pressures of new trains, while the truth is, by doing this, they decreased transparency about the whole thing. For e.g. for the last few years, the only state which had significant work being done is in U.P. (Uttar Pradesh) and a bit in Goa, although that is has been protested time and again. I being from the neighborly state of Maharashtra , and have been there several times. Now it does feels all like a dream, going to Goa :(.

Covid news

Now before I jump on the news, I should share the movie ‘Virus’ (2019) which was made by the talented Aashiq Abu. Even though, am not a Malayalee, I still have enjoyed many of his movies simply because he is a terrific director and Malayalam movies, at least most of them have English subtitles and lot of original content.. Interestingly, unlike the first couple of times when I saw it a couple of years back. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t sleep a wink for a week. Even the next time, it was heavy. I had shared the movie with mum, and even she couldn’t see it in one go. It is and was that powerful Now maybe because we are headlong in the pandemic, and the madness is all around us. There are two terms that helped me though understand a great deal of what is happening in the movie, the first term was ‘altered sensorium’ which has been defined here. The other is saturation or to be more precise ‘oxygen saturation‘. This term has also entered the Indian twitter lexicon quite a bit as India has started running out of oxygen. Just today Delhi High Court did an emergency hearing on the subject late at night. Although there is much to share about the mismanagement of the center, the best piece on the subject has been by Miss Priya Ramani. Yup, the same lady who has won against M.J. Akbar and this is when Mr. Akbar had 100 lawyers for this specific case. It would be interesting to see what happens ahead.

There are however few things even she forgot in her piece, For e.g. reverse migration i.e. from urban to rural migration started again. Two articles from different entities sharing a similar outlook.Sadly, the right have no empathy or feeling for either the poor or the sick. Even the labor minister Santosh Gangwar’s statement that around 1.04 crores were the only people who walked back home. While there is not much data, however some work/research has been done on migration to cites that the number could be easily 10 times as much. And this was in the lockdown of last year. This year, again the same issue has re-surfaced and migrants learning lessons started leaving cities. And I’m ashamed to say I think they are doing the right thing. Most State Governments have not learned lessons nor have they done any work to earn the trust of migrants. This is true of almost all state Governments. Last year, just before the lockdown was announced, me and my friend spent almost 30k getting a cab all the way from Chennai to Pune, how much we paid for the cab, how much we bribed the various people just so we could cross the state borders to return home to our anxious families. Thankfully, unlike the migrants, we were better off although we did make a loss. I probably wouldn’t be alive if I were in their situation as many didn’t. That number is still in the air ”undocumented deaths’ 😦

Vaccine issues

Currently, though the issue has been the Vaccine and the pricing of the same. A good article to get a summation of the issues outlined has been shared on Economist. Another article that goes to the heart of the issue is at scroll. To buttress the argument, the SII chairman had shared this few weeks back –

Adar Poonawala talking to Vishnu Som on Left, right center, 7th April 2021.

So, a licensee manufacturer wants to make super-profits during the pandemic. And now, as shared above they can very easily do it. Even the quotes given to nearby countries is smaller than the quotes given to Indian states –

Prices of AstraZeneca among various states and countries.

The situation around beds, vaccines, oxygen, anything is so dire that people could go to any lengths to save their loved ones. Even if they know if a certain medicine doesn’t work. For e.g. Remdesivir, 5 WHO trials have concluded that it doesn’t increase mortality. Heck, even AIIMS chief said the same. But both doctors and relatives desperation to cling on hope has made Remdesivir as a black market drug with unoffical prices hovering anywhere between INR 14k/- to INR30k/- per vial. One of the executives of a top firm was also arrested in Gujarat. In Maharashtra, the opposition M.P. came to the ‘rescue‘ of the officials of Bruick pharms in Mumbai.

Sadly, this strange affliction to the party in the center is also there in my extended family. At one end, they will heap praise on Mr. Modi, at the same time they can’t get wait to get fast out of India. Many of them have settled in horrors of horror Dubai, as it is the best place to do business, get international schools for the young ones at decent prices, cheaper or maybe a tad more than what they paid in Delhi or elsewhere. Being an Agarwal or a Gupta makes it easier to compartmentalize both things. Ease of doing business, 5 days flat to get a business registered, up and running. And the paranoia is still there. They won’t talk on the phone about him because they are afraid they may say something which comes back to bite them. As far as their decision to migrate, can’t really blame them. If I were 20-25 yeas younger and my mum were in a better shape than she is, we probably would have migrated as well, although would have preferred Europe than anywhere else.

Internet Freedom and Aarogya Setu App.


Internet Freedom had shared the chilling effects of the Aarogya Setu App. This had also been shared by FSCI in the past, and recently had their handle being banned on Twitter. This was also apparent in a legal bail order which the high court judge gave. While I won’t go into the merits and demerits of the bail order, it is astounding for the judge to say that the accused, even though he would be on bail install an app. so he can be surveilled. And this is a high court judge, such a sad state of affairs. We seem to be putting up new lows every day when it comes to judicial jurisprudence. One interesting aspect of the whole case was shared by Aishwarya Iyer. She shared a story that she and her team worked on quint which raises questions on the quality of the work done by Delhi Police. This is of course, up to Delhi Police to ascertain the truth of the matter because unless and until they are able to tie in the PMO’s office in for a leak or POTUS’s office it hardly seems possible. For e.g. the dates when two heads of state can meet each other would be decided by the secretaries of the two. Once the date is known, it would be shared with the press while at the same time some sort of security apparatus would kick in place. It is incumbent, especially on the host to take as much care as he can of the guest. We all remember that World War 1 (the war to end all wars) started due to the murder of Archduke Ferdinand.

As nobody wants that, the best way is to make sure that a political murder doesn’t happen on your watch. Now while I won’t comment on what it would be, it would be safe to assume that it would be z+ security along with higher readiness. Especially if it as somebody as important as POTUS. Now, it would be quite a reach for Delhi Police to connect the two dates. They either will have to get creative with the dates or some other way. Otherwise, with practically no knowledge in the public domain, they can”t work in limbo. In either case, I do hope the case comes up for hearing soon and we see what the Delhi Police says and contends in the High Court about the same. At the very least, it would be irritating for them to talk of the dates unless they can contend some mass conspiracy which involves the PMO (and would bring into question the constant vetting done by the Intelligence dept. of all those who work in PMO). And this whole case is to kind of shelter to the Delhi riots which happened in which majorly the Muslims died but their deaths lay unaccounted till date 😦

Conclusion

In Conclusion, I would like to share a bit of humor because right now the atmosphere is humorless, both with authoritarian tendencies of the Central Govt. and the mass mismanagement of public health which they now have left to the state to do as they fit. The peice I am sharing is from arre, one of my goto sites whenever I feel low.

2 thoughts on “The Great Train Robbery

  1. I can’t bear myself to watch the video, but the Thatcher engine character is scary but also funny. If only celebrity cameos had been a thing when they made the Thomas the Tank Engine television series (Ringo Starr notwithstanding).

    One observation about UK nationalisation is that I suppose that Scotland and Wales are aiming to formally end private franchise operations, whereas the British government is merely tolerating state intervention temporarily until they can put the routes out to tender again: they are ideologically programmed to believe that private corporations do everything better and that the role of the state is to facilitate private profit. Although the pandemic will have changed the conditions of business, there have been prior cases of those corporations making substantial losses and losing their franchises, with the state actually managing to return franchises to profitability. I guess the private sector isn’t magic, after all.

    I remember railway privatisation in the UK. The Daily Mail was all enthusiastic about a new golden era pretending that the consolidation era of pre-war railways (GWR, LMS, LNER, SR) was back, with shiny locomotives, smart uniforms, and all the cosplaying that such people seem to enjoy. Along with smart uniforms and some shiny locomotives, we also got a nationwide track operating company that was privatised and went bankrupt (Railtrack), and sensible people started to realise that competition is something of a nonsense when there is only one network, that operators will want the best “slots” (a known phenomenon from the airline industry and market dynamics in general), and that there are limits to making a better service when the network is a limiting factor (and its still-underfunded operator just went bust). The UK having the oldest rail network along with all those legacy issues (track gauge, route choices, infrastructure limitations) hardly helped.

    Although operators did invest in rolling stock, there was nothing to stop the state doing so. In fact, the Thatcher government effectively defunded locomotive and rolling stock development (the APT, for example), and foreign-owned manufacturers took over and ended up selling the results back to the private operators at the turn of the century. Advocates for privatisation will moan about the costs to the taxpayer, but the taxpayer always seems to end up bailing out private businesses whose fares alienate their customers, while subsidising the congested road network (presumably full of former rail users), so perhaps it is time for such people to see that the rail network is actually a strategic asset as opposed to a liability to be opportunistically exploited until it is defunct. That would need a degree of ideological deprogramming first, however.

    1. That has been happening time and time again. There have been a series of scams and what not and every time it is the taxpayer or/and the bank account holder who has been left holding the purse. This is something that happened in Indian Banks about a year ago – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGUxvum1hpI

      Somehow, even after 70 years of being free, the colonial mindset of having more rules has never gone and it has just resulted into more and more bureaucracy. Few years ago, we had something called GST (Goods and Services Tax) which was supposed to be a simple tax has become a monstrosity. For those who want to cheat the law it has never been easier, those who want to uphold the law, they are the ones who are running pillar to post all the time. And the law keeps on changing every few days, weeks etc. 😦

      My point is if certain people in the Govt. can make money via kickbacks or whatnot, which happens frequently in India and I know in UK too (PPE deals of last year) then yes, governments do have incentives to do such kind of deals. They know they can get away with murder while enriching themselves with no harm to them or their Government or Governance, unless something really blows up on their face. As shared India is right now going through the worst of the pandemic as of yet, and with all the incompetance the Govt. has shown, quite a few people may still vote for the same Govt. as the Govt. is against Muslims, single-point agenda 😦

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