Re-Nationalise the Railways

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by Julian

Let’s look at the facts;

Britain’s railway system is one of the most expensive in the European Union.

Britain’s railways cost 11 billion a year to run, 5 billion of which is paid for by the taxpayer.

Britain’s privatized railways system now costs the UK taxpayer more than when it was state-owned.

There has been a five-fold rise in government subsidy since privatisation of the railways.

Britain’s rail system is the most inefficient in Europe.

According to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), Britain’s rail system is up to 40% less efficient than European rivals including Germany, Ireland and Belgium.

Britain’s railways are less safe than their European counterparts.

According to the International Union of Railways, Britain has 0.36 deaths per billion kilometres compared with Italy’s 0.10, France’s 0.27 and Germany’s 0.31.

Britain’s rail ticket prices are the highest in the European Union.

According to the commuter watchdog, Passenger Focus, Britain’s rail passengers are paying 50% more than rail users on the continent.

And now the coalition government has announced plans to allow rail fares to go up by as much as 8% in England- with some rail companies setting even higher rates.

Now look at this fact;

A survey in 2009 found that as many as 70% of the British public would support re-nationalisation of the railways. A mere 23% supported privatisation.

So what should Labour’s policy on railways be?

This isn’t rocket science. The answer is clear.

Labour should pledge to bring back British Rail and completely re-nationalize the railways.

I’m tempted to finish my argument here. But let’s take a moment to look at the whole disgraceful history of the privatisation of Britain’s railways.

This is from an article in The Economist in 1999 –

The Rail Billionaires

One of the three rolling-stock firms, Porterbrook Leasing, was duly sold to senior BR managers for £528m. But only eight months later, Porterbrook was sold on by the management-buyout team for £826m. Having done little but (briefly) own the company, the directors and staff of Porterbrook, who had invested a mere £300,000 of their own, made nearly £83.7m. Porterbrook’s managing director, who had invested £120,000, scooped £34m. Venture-capital firms, which had put £2.2m into Porterbrook, picked up £315m. Eversholt Leasing and the third rolling-stock company were sold in 1997 for £900m more than the original purchasers paid. As Sir Alastair (Morton) told MPs on June 23rd, it was a ‘fat-cat carve-up’.

 

The directors of the main private train operators have made spectacular profits since privatisation. But despite this, they let the service deteriorate and invested too little in the rail network. This finally resulted in accidents such as the 2002 Potters Bar disaster which claimed seven lives and injured 76. The 3 million pound fine for the disaster imposed on the private firm Railtrack PLC and the private contractor Jarvis PLC was finally paid by the taxpayer as both firms had been wound up, meaning the directors were no longer liable.

When Railtrack PLC was finally wound up in 2002, the company was renamed Network Rail, which is technically a private business. In many ways this is the worst of all worlds, a private company, backed by the taxpayer with not even any shareholders to answer to.

The executives in charge of Network Rail have taken advantage of this comfortable situation, and have been paying themselves bonuses and perks which have shocked even the present government.

When Network Rail decided to award its chief executive Iain Coucher a £1m payoff, the present Tory transport Secretary Philip Hammond said this;

This payoff will stick in the gullet of every farepayer and taxpayer who think they pay too much to use our railway …… most people will feel it doesn’t sit well given the difficult times most families are facing.

 

You’ve got to be doing something wrong if you’ve managed to receive a ticking off on executive pay from a Tory minister.

The truth is that rail privatisation has been a total disaster.

If British Rail had the same amount of government subsidy our railways have now, we would have one of the best rail systems in the world, with a single company owning the trains, the track, the  system maintenance and the ticketing making it cheaper to operate resulting in efficient services and affordable fares

Labour should pledge to take all public transport, rail, trams and buses back into full public ownership.

Labour must oppose the Tory-led Government’s policy of shifting the cost of running the railways on to passengers.

Labour should also pledge to oppose the European Union Commission’s proposals to reduce rail subsidies.

Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Maria Eagle recently said this about the plans;

Over the next three years, commuters will see fares rise by as much as a third and many will end up paying a fifth of their salary just to get to work, more than they spend on their mortgage or rent.

‘Now, this barmy EU plan risks pricing people off the railways altogether, adding to the congestion on Britain’s roads.

 

Labour should pledge to make public transport once again a service for the public, not just the few who can afford it.

Labour should pledge to stop the fat-cat carve up of our public transport system.

The country would be better off for it, passengers would be better off for it and taxpayers would be better off for it.

And who knows? A policy like this could even win them the next election.