IF this were a just society, the executives of FirstGroup would be paraded in chains on the concourse at St Pancras. Because it is modern Britain, however, they get to go to the Rail Business Awards.
And what a big night it was, down at the London Hilton! First was named Rail Business of the Year. First Great Western was awarded Train Operator of the Year. A man named Daniel Williams got Young Professional of the Year.
Daniel Williams is the customer service delivery manager for First Capital Connect, which has inflicted three months of misery on the people using its services. First Capital Connect’s customer service delivery is described as “substandard” and “a matter of acute concern” by no less a person than the Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis.
First Great Western is responsible for making more people stand in conditions of extreme discomfort than the Stasi.
And First Group is Britain’s worst company, an organisation which specialises in taking functioning transport services and reducing them to chaos. No wonder the award ceremony had to be hosted by a comedian, Phil Hammond.
If you want a good vomit, here’s a quote from the chairman of the judges, Steve Agg: “The judging panel were almost overwhelmed with the strength of the entries from FirstGroup this year. To have achieved such a high level of performance, across so many disciplines, makes them worthy winners of this award.”
The Rail Business Awards didn’t overlook other privatised transport disasters, either. Lee Jones, director of operations at Tube Lines, was named rail business manager of the year – the year that Tube Lines’ upgrade of the Jubilee Line turned into a fiasco and their relationship with their only customer, TfL, collapsed.
Of course, if the rail industry was obliged to recognise only true excellence, its award ceremonies would be pretty short. But does anyone on Planet Rail have even a shred of self-awareness? Do they have even an atom of humility? Can’t they understand how extraordinarily offensive it is to sit around in hotel ballrooms, drinking good wine at our expense (everything on the railways, one way or another, is at our expense) and handing out awards to the most discredited companies they can find?
The clue to these insufferable awards is in the second word of their title, not the first. First Group, Tube Lines and the rest may be atrocious railways. But they are brilliant businesses. They have worked out the optimum way of screwing the maximum cash out of taxpayers and farepayers while spending the absolute minimum they can possibly get away with on service and upgrades. One of the award judges is actually called Mr Profit.
So that is why the Rail Business Awards are, perversely, to be welcomed. At some point, as the public spending squeeze bites, the people in charge of spending our taxes must surely cotton on. And the more the robber barons of rail celebrate their own cleverness, the likelier it is that we, the victims, will rise up and demand their destruction.