Has Britain's rail system gone off the rails?

The ITV Tonight programme Off the Rails? will air on Thursday at 7.30pm. Photo:

For the last two months Britain's railways have come under intense scrutiny. A huge error in the way government awards contracts to private train firms has cost tax payers millions. The entire system has been halted, civil servants suspended, reviews launched. All this with fare increases due within months.

Tonight the documentary I have been making will be on TV (let me get the plug over...ITV at 7.30pm). I travel throughout the UK system and into Europe to investigate whether the billions we spend on trains are value for money.

Consumer Editor Chris Choi speaks to Phil Marsh, a former senior executive for Network Rail, in the Tonight programme.

The focus is on the West Coast Mainline where Virgin was told it had lost out to First Group - only for the decision to be overturned creating a shambles at the heart of the way rail is organised.

The man who was at the centre of the fiasco speaks for the first time about it. Tony Collins is the CEO of Virgin Trains and had a front row seat as the mess unfolded before him.

He tells me he thinks the Department For Transport does not have sufficient expertise to run the complex system it is supposed to be in charge of. It is a worrying accusation coming from such a highly respected figure in the industry.

There are some dire financial warnings too. So far the government has only said the fiasco will cost £40 million of tax payers money. I meet industry insiders who say the figure will be many times that. One of the executives who devised the franchising system predicts a cost of £200 million.

Many people are so angry at the waste of public money they are calling for re-nationalisation. I went to Germany where the train system is still state owned. Fares are much cheaper and the trains much faster.

I find out how one of the peculiarities of the UK privatised system is that the German State Railway runs Britain's Royal Train!