Re-nationalise British raiways
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
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
PUT TRAINS ON RIGHT TRACK
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 Britains 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 Roys 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 dont 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 isnt there.
Perhaps its 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 Majors 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 doesnt 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 cant we? Its also
worth remembering that even Nicholas Ridley, Mrs
Thatchers pro-privatisation transport minister,
rejected rail privatisation as a sell-off too far.
Its 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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