Mick Whelan says rail privatisation has not worked

TransPennine_Express_at_PiccadillyASLEF has welcomed new Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to bring Britain’s railways back into public ownership.

The new Labour leader announced each route would be renationalised when its franchise expired. If Labour was elected in 2020, this would lead to a third of franchises, including East Coast, Southern and Transpennine Express, being bought under public ownership by 2025.

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘Jeremy has made the right decision about the future of Britain’s railways. Because it’s crystal clear to those of us who work in the rail industry that privatisation – an ideologically-driven decision taken by John Major twenty years ago – hasn’t worked.

“It’s a flawed, and failed, model, and Jeremy has recognised this. It’s time to bring the railways back into public ownership where every penny and every pound can be spent investing in our transport infrastructure rather than disappearing into private pockets.

‘It’s a popular policy, too.The vast majority of voters, when polled, and this includes Conservative voters, too, are fed up with paying sky high fares so the privatised train companies can take their slice. Commuters travelling into London from Kent and Sussex know their £5,000 a year season tickets would be slashed under public ownership.

‘The railways cost the public purse about £1 billion a year under British Rail. But that figure has since soared, under privatisation, to more than £4 billion a year. That’s the real cost to the taxpayer of privatisation; although it’s not one you will hear the train operating companies, or their friends in the Conservative government,shouting from the rooftops.

‘When John Major privatised the railway he promised three things – competition, innovation, and investment.But there is no competition – with the model we’ve got, the privatised train operating companies all have protected routes, private monopolies – there is precious little innovation – the TOCs were against the introduction of Oyster cards – and all the investment in the industry comes from central government. I know why the train operating companies like privatisation – because when they talk about “risk and reward” they mean there is no risk, it’s all reward – but the model is broken. It’s no way to run a modern railway.

‘The Tories were determined to rush the East Coast – which brought £1 billion back to the Treasury – back into private ownership before a general election earlier this year they feared they would lose. We need to ensure the Tories don’t sabotage Jeremy’s plans with more direct awards (the secret sweetheart deals they love) or longer franchises to frustrate reform.

‘We need to ensure that Network Rail is not broken up and privatised – the last thing the railway needs in this country is more fragmentation – which would take us back to the dark days when accidents, deaths and injuries, were more common than they are now.

‘And we need to find a way of bringing the freight sector, so vital for Britain’s economy, back into the public sector, too.

‘But Jeremy Corbyn is right when he says he wants the next Labour government to put our fragmented, privatised railway back together as a modern, integrated, and publicly-owned railway fit for the 21st century.’


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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