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Britain’s railways are in a mess. The fares are too high; the services too disrupted; and the “fat cat” rail bosses vastly overpaid. So runs the criticism that will be familiar to many middle-class dinner tables, especially at the start of a new year when price hikes are unveiled.

Such received wisdom is way off the mark, writes Julian Glover. In an opinion piece for Weekend FT, the former special adviser at the department for transport argues that while Britain’s transport system faces many challenges, the railways are not one of them. The real issues lie in the realm of road capacity, finance and the environment. Rail is a sideshow that passes the vast majority of people by: only one in ten of all journeys in Britain is by train.

The network is also in much better shape than its critics would have you think, says Julian. It is mostly quick, reliable and not as expensive as most people believe. Traffic numbers have increased massively since privatisation in the 1990s; some 83 per cent of passengers say they are satisfied with the service.

This does not mean that things cannot be improved. Julian suggests a number of changes — such as a more joined-up approach to London’s commuter services and more competition on long distance routes. The one thing that would not make things better is nationalisation. State ownership, he says, would leave staff, passengers and taxpayers all worse off. That really would fuel dinner party conversations.

Death of an analyst: Spare a thought for Julian Bonusworthy, the archetypal forty-something equity analyst now facing career death. Robert Armstrong argues that a combination of regulation — in particular the new Mifid II rules introduced this week — and robots are about to consign Julian and his well-catered peers (“His twins are in private school, the Land Rover is paid for and his £4m house is not”) to the scrapheap as the business of finance is fundamentally rewired. The transition will be painful, writes Robert. But in the end the outcome may be a happier Julian.

Costly distraction: In his Saturday column Tim Harford looks at the wider impact of technology on the economy. As well endlessly distracting ourselves with addictive games or the anxious checking of email and social media, technology has also eroded traditional skills and made generalists of us all. While we may like turning our hands to web design, or grumble about having to type our correspondence, it raises the question of how productive we really are.

The imperfection of youth: Miranda Green writes about new research from psychologists showing a marked rise in “irrational desire for flawlessness” among young people. The effects of this striving for perfectionism — fuelled in part by social media — is pernicious. Time to teach our young that it really is OK to fail.

Best of the week

Gideon Rachman on the case for optimism in 2018

Martin Wolf looks at the new world disorder and the fracturing of the west

Pilita Clark on Tesla’s woes and why the auto industry must deliver affordable electric cars fast

Philip Stephens on why Britain has made itself a Brexit straitjacket

Izabella Kaminska unpicks truth and fiction in blockchain’s brave new world

Benjamin Auslin explains why Latin is an essential language for our digital age

Robert Shrimsley conjures up an election night documentary of Donald Trump’s victory

What you’ve been saying

Look more closely and it’s not all bad news — from Alejandro Mayorca Guiliani, Copenhagen, Denmark

“Sir, The pessimism displayed in Martin Wolf’s latest column, ‘Global disorder and the fate of the west’, may be unwarranted. Islamic fundamentalism is being defeated in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is attempting reform and, as I write, there are protests against the government in Iran, underlining the failed promise of a puritanical regime. We should not underestimate the appeal of democracy for those who live without it.”

Comment from Lambert on Claer Barrett’s smashing column, When terms of endearment fail to please

“It all seems rather nice, if quaint, compared to an American sequence of increasingly aggressive ‘Sirs’ as the hand moves closer to the holster. Let’s be thankful for the civility we have, even if imperfect.”

Science and religion have a productive relationship — from Andrew Milligan, Edinburgh, UK

“Sir, May I ask Paul Weighell (Letters, January 3) which ‘early diktat of the Christian church’ he is referring to which required that natural science only be studied as long as the results did not challenge the foundation of religion? Modern research has shown a far more productive relationship exists between religion and science than the now discredited 19th century views of Draper and White on this subject. If Mr Weighell is referring to the Galileo episode (hardly early Church of course), the Vatican recognised its error within a few years. In medieval times the scientific work of Bacon, Buridan and Oresme, and post-Reformation the work of Lemaitre, Londrick and Mendel, all clearly show the religious view that by better understanding nature we can better understand the work of a more intelligent entity.”

Today’s opinion

Ingram Pinn’s illustration of the week: Bad hair day
Fire and fury in the White House

The Big Read: Growing dissent adds to Iranian regime’s troubles
Fuelled by anger over broken economic promises, thousands of Iranians once seen as loyal to Tehran have taken to the streets

FT View: Sorry is not enough for Britain’s health service
The government must properly fund as well as modernise the NHS

FT Alphaville: Crypto cards just suffered a major setback

Person in the News: Pony Ma, the global strategist with deep pockets
The Tencent chief shuns the limelight but has big ambitions for the Chinese tech giant

Best of the Big Read 2017
From Weinstein to Brexit, green technology and the big stories in charts

Sue Grafton, writer, 1940-2017
Murderous thoughts of her ex-husband led to her becoming a detective writer

Allow the young to embrace an imperfect new year
Perfectionism is on the rise among students but we all need to ease up

Britain’s railways need careful expansion, not nationalisation
The system is not perfect, but nor is it in the crisis some would have us believe

The unmourned death of the sellside analyst
A former stalwart of Wall Street and the City has been felled by regulators and robots

FT Alphaville: The Ripple effect

When terms of endearment fail to please
Remember, context is everything where the language of affection is concerned

Opinion today: Britain’s Brexit straightjacket
Whereas most trade negotiations result in liberalisation, any UK-EU deal is likely to do the opposite

Computers are making generalists of us all
The narrow office specialist is increasingly a thing of the past

EM Squared: Emerging Asian companies post dramatic profit surge
Region accounts for 26% of earnings of MSCI World index, up from 3% in 1999

FT View

FT View: Sorry is not enough for Britain’s health service
The government must properly fund as well as modernise the NHS

FT View: Fire and fury in the Trump White House
A sensational portrait of the president has hit a nerve, with reason

The Big Read

The Big Read: Growing dissent adds to Iranian regime’s troubles
Fuelled by anger over broken economic promises, thousands of Iranians once seen as loyal to Tehran have taken to the streets

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