The recent publication of Rebuilding Rail can be taken the continuation of struggle against governmental policy on railways. For the last Twenty years rail planning has been based on a complicated system of privatisation and fragmentation, a system that reduces the capital costs to the the companies involved, thus maximising the rate of profit. Franchises guarantee a source of income from the tax payer and fare paying passengers.
The report estimates that every year at least £1.2 billion is wasted on maintaining the labyrinthine system franchising, hiring and sub-contracting that separates ownership, operating and maintenance, and splits track from rolling stock. These years of privatisation have have led to the loss of thousands of jobs, undermined safety and led to massive fare increases.
The research and compiling of the report is by Transport for Quality of Life carried out for the four railway unions ( Aslef, RMT, TSSA, and Unite ) and puts forward a strategy for a future Labour government. It tells of the lack of investment in the railways and of the many ways in which the private sector is inefficient and stifles innovation.
This report must be taken as an antidote to the McNulty Report of last year that pointed to the cost of running the British rail network, but proposed cutting tens of thousands of front line rail staff, the break up of Network Rail, and greater commercial freedom for the train operators to put up prices, cut services and further pack the carriages. McNulty has formed the basis of the November 2011 command paper that underlies the ConDemned government’s policy, which will deepen financial problems of the rail network and further undermine the safety and security of staff and passengers.
Rebuilding Rail’s proposals include reintegration of rail system under public ownership and an end to the franchising system. No new franchises would be started and there should be a review of whether the taxpayers and passengers would get a better deal by the buying out existing franchises. Money leaks out of the rail service in the form of dividends paid to shareholders of the various private companies involved, and the railways are still subsidised to the tune of many billions of pounds each year. Railways must be regarded as a public service that benefits the economy, the environment and society in general.
The unions that commissioned the report are determined that the research becomes a basis for action. There must be a reversal of the policy of fragmentation and of the handing over national assets to parasitical private corporations.
The report says its plans are “both affordable and compliant with EU rail regulations.” yet it envisages the need to campaign against European Union competition rules, which will force countries to open passenger services to competition. Many other European countries still have publicly owned railways with a public service ethos. These are under threat from EU policies.
Fighting for a policy change in Britain is right not only for rail workers, commuters and public at large, but is a concrete way to show international solidarity with workers across Europe who face neo-liberal inspired attacks on their rail systems.