Re-nationalise British raiways

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon May 23 22:56:03 BST 2011

Don't blame the staff - it's privatisation that has failed our railways
by Bob Crow - Guardian - Thursday 19 May 2011 - 
The rail network has become a cash cow for 
businesses interested solely in risk-free profits

Our fares are the highest in Europe
Sunday May 22,2011 - By Neil Clark
IMAGINE a detective arriving at the scene of a 
murder and failing to question the person caught 
holding a blood-stained dagger over the body. 
Imagine, too, that the detective then makes no 
mention of said person in his report.
Far-fetched? Well, overlooking the obvious is 
exactly what happened last week in relation to an 
inquiry into Britain’s railways.
Sir Roy McNulty, former chairman of the Civil 
Aviation Authority, was appointed to investigate 
why our railways are the most expensive in Europe.
His report found 10 main barriers to efficiency 
and made a series of recommendations, including 
cutting staff at stations and allowing some train 
operators to assume responsibility for maintenance.
The most noteworthy thing about Sir Roy’s report 
was what it did not recommend.
The reason why our fares are the highest in 
Europe is because, unlike other European 
countries, our railways are privatised.
While the state-owned railways of Belgium, 
Germany, France and Austria are run as public 
services, here they are run to extract as much 
money out of passengers and taxpayers as possible.
Railways are a good example of a natural 
monopoly, where the usual arguments about the 
benefits of competition don’t apply.
When it comes to discussion of our sky-high rail 
fares, however, re-nationalisation is the 
elephant in the room, the obvious, commonsense 
solution that not only the Government but also 
the Opposition pretends isn’t there.
Perhaps it’s because nationalisation, as a policy 
option, is considered Left-wing or perhaps it is 
because no one in our political elite would like 
to admit that rail privatisation, implemented by 
John Major’s Tory government in 1996 and carried 
on by Labour when it returned to power, has proved a very costly mistake.
Privatisation replaced British Rail, a unitary 
railway company with a hopelessly divided and fragmented network.
The move was supposed to save money for the 
taxpayer but in fact the private train operators 
currently receive about fi ve times more in 
government subsidy than British Rail, £5.2billion.
In effect, taxpayers’ money has been boosting the 
profi ts of private train firms which then have 
the audacity to fleece us again by charging the highest fares in Europe.
Instead of spending 15 months on their report, it 
would have been quicker if Sir Roy and his team 
had just hopped on a ferry to see how railways 
operate on the Continent. In Belgium, ticket 
prices actually fall by 50 per cent at weekends, 
making it easier to  visit friends and family.
A simple distance-based pricing system also 
operates, unlike here with its mindboggling 
variety of fares for the same journey.
Sir Roy also found that the costs of operating 
the railways in Britain is up to 40 per cent 
higher than in France, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden.
SIGNIFICANTLY, in those countries, the main 
railway firms are state-owned but rather than 
call for re-nationalisation, McNulty recommends 
companies get longer franchises and “more freedom”.
He also recommends reducing the coverage of 
off-peak fares regulation which is likely to mean 
more misery for passengers already hit with 
average rises of 6.2 per cent in January. It doesn’t have to be like this

Re-nationalising would not only be good news for 
passengers but for the economy, too.
Modern economies need mass transport systems that 
allow large numbers of people to move around 
quickly, comfortably and relatively cheaply. 
Before we even talk about new high-speed routes 
we need to get our existing network up to 
scratch. As for it being a Left-wing option, 
re-nationalisation is not about ideology.
If free-market Switzerland can operate a 
publicly-owned railway why can’t we? It’s also 
worth remembering that even Nicholas Ridley, Mrs 
Thatcher’s pro-privatisation transport minister, 
rejected rail privatisation as a sell-off too far.
It’s not those who call for renationalisation who 
are being dogmatic but those who still cling to 
the fi ction that a privatised railway is somehow sustainable.
A detective who fails to question the most 
obvious murder suspect would be considered a poor 
sleuth and our politicians are failing us if they 
continue to ignore the simplest solution to our railway woes.

Neil Clark is co-founder of the campaign For Public Ownership

+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung

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