Cllr Alan Hall has joined transport campaigners, trade unions and commuters saying that the government should bring franchises back under public ownership, and start to build a railway for people not profit. Lewisham is a railway hub and the boroughs development depends on public transport.
Nearly 18,000 emails have been sent to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, demanding that the railway be brought into public ownership. This comes at the launch of the ‘Take Back Our Trains’ campaign in response to the news that train company bailouts have cost at least £3.5 billion so far. The campaign is coordinated by rail passenger groups including the Association of British Commuters, Bring Back British Rail and We Own It.
The bailout – costing £900 million a month – was intended to be a temporary solution, but train companies are now demanding a 12-18 month extension to the bailout. Campaigners claim this would lock passengers and taxpayers into an expensive and dysfunctional system for the long-term, as experts say that nearly all rail franchises would financially collapse on even 80% of the passenger numbers they had before.
They also claim that public ownership is the only feasible alternative, and the government has already prepared sufficient backup operators to take over every franchise in the country, adding that the ‘Operator of Last Resort’ is well-resourced, and would provide the flexibility and cost-efficiency needed to adjust services in response to passenger numbers and the changing needs of public health.
Emily Yates from the passenger advocacy group Association of British Commuters, said:
“The dysfunctional system of privatised rail has been failing passengers for years, yet all promises of reform have come to nothing.
“The need to start building an integrated, efficient and accountable railway was urgent even before the corona pandemic. Public ownership is now the only way to succeed with the public health and economic challenges we’re facing.”
Campaigners anticipate that the government will make a decision on whether to renationalise or extend the bailout at the end of June. They stress that public ownership of the railway has the overwhelming support of the public – with one opinion poll putting support at 76%.
Ellie Harrison, founder of passenger-led campaign Bring Back British Rail said: “Privatised rail has never worked. ‘Natural monopolies’ like our railways need to be centrally co-ordinated.
“Now the coronavirus crisis has laid bare this simple truth. Public transport is an essential public service to get our key workers to their jobs, and it cannot be run for profit while ‘social distancing’ measures remain in place.”
Ellen Lees, campaigns officer at We Own It said: “Rail privatisation was imploding long before coronavirus hit, with private rail companies collapsing left, right and centre. The government can’t keep funnelling billions into a broken system which only benefits shareholders – so why not take the opportunity to build something better out of the ashes of privatised rail?
“Passengers, workers and the public all want public ownership – to keep us safe, to save money, and to build a public transport network fit for a greener, post-COVID future.”
The full text of the letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Transport Secretary is here:
The government is about to make a crucial decision on whether to renationalise the railways. The alternative is a long-term bailout of train companies, which would lock us into the failed franchising system for at least another year. We urge you to bring these franchises back under public ownership instead, as the first and most important step towards an integrated, efficient and accountable railway network.
76% of the public want our railway to be run in public ownership – private train companies have been holding passengers hostage for too long, and it’s time to take back control for the public. With coronavirus still very much a threat, it’s even more important that we can trust our railway to keep us and workers safe.
When the corona lockdown began in March, all UK rail franchises were converted to ‘Emergency Measures Agreements’ (EMAs). This means the taxpayer is now funding the entire cost of the railway, while ensuring the train companies continue to make a profit. The arrangement is costing us an estimated £900 million per month, and train companies are demanding that it continues for at least another year – locking us into a wasteful, fragmented and unaccountable system.
Public ownership is the only other option, and it’s one that the government has actually prepared for. The Department for Transport has now assembled enough ‘Operators of Last Resort’ (OLRs) to take over every rail franchise in the country; the method that was used to renationalise Northern earlier this year. Before the lockdown, the OLR had been ready to take over other franchises at the point of collapse; such as South Western Railway, West Midlands Trains, and Transpennine Express. It would be a travesty if these failing companies were now to benefit from an indefinite bailout.
If the Emergency Measures Agreements are extended for all train companies, it could cost the taxpayer more than £10 billion a year; while further entrenching the dysfunctional structure of the railway and delaying any solution. But if the government chooses public ownership, that money could be spent far more efficiently, beginning the task of building an integrated and sustainable transport system right away. Passengers have been waiting for a solution to railway fragmentation ever since the 2018 timetable collapse, and in the face of a public health emergency it is now doubly important that they have a railway they can trust, with clear lines of accountability at every level.
The franchising system had collapsed long before the corona pandemic and any further bailout to train companies will delay the chance to fix our railways, when their role as an essential public service has never been so important. The social, economic and climate challenges ahead require a properly integrated, cost-efficient and accountable system run in the clear and overriding public interest. The government must take this opportunity to bring franchises back under public ownership, and start to build a railway for people not profit.
Will you bring the railway into public ownership?
Cllr Alan Hall
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