Posted 5th January 2015 | 10 Comments

Demonstrators stage New Year protests at stations

DEMONSTRATORS calling for changes in the railway industry are out in force.

Rallies have been called at Brighton and other stations in Sussex in support of a campaign to return the railways to public ownership, which has been strengthened by a Private Member’s Bill due to receive its Second Reading within a few days, while other campaigners are protesting in the North of England at possible changes to the next Northern and TransPennine Express franchises.

The Railways Bill is the brainchild of Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP who represents Brighton Pavilion.

It includes the provision that ‘When any existing private rail franchise comes up for renewal, it shall revert to the control of the Secretary of State, who shall allocate it to a public body’.

Caroline Lucas said: “Britain was once a world leader in transport thanks to our hugely successful railways, but today’s privatised system – characterised by poor services and some of the most expensive fares in Europe – is ripping off passengers, harming the economy and failing the environment.

“Since privatisation nearly 20 years ago, the cost of train travel has risen by 17 per cent compared to a 7 per cent drop in the cost of motoring, while in recent years the bill for the taxpayer of running the trains has shot up by two to three times.

"Train operating companies are dependent upon public subsidies to run services, so it is disgraceful that these same companies then turn over an estimated 90 per cent of their operating profits to shareholders.

"This is a blatant transfer of public money to private interests at the expense of the taxpayer and rail passengers, who are forced to endure the consequences of a deeply complex and fragmented system while ticket prices soar.”

The Rail Delivery Group, whose members include the owners of railway franchises, said that the average franchisee’s profits were 3p in the pound.

A spokesman added: “Our railway has been transformed into the safest, fastest growing and best in Europe by a winning combination of private sector innovation and government policy. Other European countries have invested heavily in their networks, but do not benefit from the same vibrant rail market, which means they have not come close to matching our railway’s record of achievement.

“With passenger numbers having almost doubled on our railway there is more revenue and the money operators return to government has increased fivefold to almost £2 billion. Government is choosing to reinvest this money into building a better network and our aim is to make the railway even better still for passengers and businesses.”

Meanwhile, the RMT said that the Invitations to Tender for the next Northern and Transpennine Express were not now expected before February.

The union fears that the new franchises will include driver-only operated trains, reductions in station staffing, fare increases and reductions to the TPE network, and rallies are taking place at a number of key stations in the north of England, including Manchester Piccadilly, Carlisle, Wakefield Kirkgate, Wigan Wallgate, Newcastle, Doncaster and Leeds.

The RMT’s general secretary Mick Cash said: “The Government’s whole franchise timetable for the Northern and TPE routes has descended into chaos. 

“While George Osborne has been spouting a stream of rhetoric about a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ the real truth is that the whole region can expect a sub-standard, bodged-up services for many years to come. RMT activists and our supporters in the community will continue to be out in force in this New Year.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Lutz, London

    I'm guessing the majority of the demonstrators, as was illustrated by the crowd of half-a-dozen or so activists at Kings Cross, are members of the RMT.

    They are entitled to make a public statement, but let's be clear on this; the RMT has a vested interest in ensuring that their employer is a state-owned organisation under a Government run by Labour, the later of which they still partially finance. This is nothing about offering higher standards of service, or improved safety, but about power for the union's apparatchiks.

  • Roshan, Leeds

    That is perhaps right, David, but you've got to remember that Network Rail receives a lot of money from the TOCs for investment and improvements. Realistically, how much money do the TOCs have left once they pay off all their expenses? I think we need to make a major drive towards running the railways more efficiently. Look at what the major sources of expenditure for the TOCs are and then see what we can do to minimise this. In my opinion this whole business of franchising makes for a very complicated and very inefficient way to run the railways.

    I'm not really pro-nationalisation as I believe the free-market model is best, with heavy competition between TOCs. The problem is that is not the way the railways are being run at all. More open-access operators would go some way towards creating this scenario in my opinion, but it would take a monumental effort to restore the railways to the way it was before the Big Four were formed all those years ago. That's where the argument for nationalisation stands up in my opinion - it would create a simple and much more transparent structure which should allow for lower fares. The problem is there needs to be lots of investment (which is more difficult when nationalised) and ideally the example of Italy should be followed and we should allow private open-access operators to operate various routes.

  • david c smith, milton keynes

    Chris - yes, the net profits extracted are not large, but I do wish the TOC's were not so constrained by DfT and allowed to invest significantly off their own initiative.

    Only today I received an email from one of the TOC's regretting their inability to develop a new service due to not being allowed to invest in extra rolling stock.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Alan and Ben, if you don't want Green Party policy to be misrepresented, you are going to have to stop relying on lazy soundbites like the one Caroline Lucas used. If you spend 95% of your time banging on about the evils of privatisation and HS2 and only 5% of your time advocating the difficult and expensive decisions you will need to deliver the rail improvements you want, one has to wonder how serious you are about the latter one.

    My suspicion is that if the Greens got their way and scrapped both privatisation and HS2, one they discover how much money *really* needs to be spent to deliver what they promised, they'll suddenly forget they'd promised all of this, and decide that high fares and overcrowding are no longer problems because nationalisation solved everything.

    Tell you what, Alan and Ben, benefit of the doubt if you can explain how you propose to address overcrowding to Milton Keynes and Northampton if not through HS2. There are reasonable alternatives out there - I just want to know if you're prepared to consider expensive and difficult solutions that do work instead of cheap and easy ones that don't.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Given that Northern Rail conductors have trouble in collecting fares from all passengers in two car pacers then how will they manage with four car class 319s especially if they have to continue to open and close train doors !

    DOO would free conductors to concentrate on collecting and in due time checking that passengers have a valid ticket . Funny thing is class 319s will need to be adapted as they currently run at DOO trains on Thameslink .

    As for subsidises for Network Rail, well Network Rail produced a £2 billion profit last year which was taxed by government and an increasing number of TOCs are paying a premium to government . In fact one reason fare increases had to be cut back was because this income was beginning to look like a Rail Tax !

    Politicians may like the present system as it allows them to pretend they are funding rail improvements and it plays into the hands of those who think rail is tax subsidised when in fact much of the money has come from the railway. It's this money go round that needs to be stopped and it's here that the central body the BR board provided is missed as if this money was paid direct to a BR Board ( not nationalised!) it would then mean only funds paid by taxpayers would be shown as coming from government and not money government has just received from TOCs recycled .

  • Ben Samuel, Hendon

    Chris I'm no rail expert and to be honest I haven't read Caroline Lucas' comments but the Greens are different to other parties in that we would actually invest in British Rail. (if it's fully nationalised Network Rail would cease to exist). These improvements include faster electrication, better integration, better passenger services on freight lines, more passengers attracted by a 10% cut in fairs. We absolutely believe a subsidy is necessary. It's just our January message is trying to get hard pinched commuters on board with the railway workers.
    I'm standing for Green MP in Hendon and I support calls for step free access and better accessibility. I am a big fan of the Campaign for Better Transport and really pleased that RMT have finally seen what a good job Caroline has been doing. Visitors by rail to Brighton have increased over her first term.

  • Alan Francis, Milton Keynes

    I'm afraid that Chris has misinterpreted the quote from Caroline Lucas and then just made wild assumptions about what the Green Party's rail policy might be. I used to be the Green Party's national Transport Speaker and I devised the policy of taking each TOC back into public ownership as its franchise expires that is the basis of the Bill.

    I can assure Chris that Greens would not reduce the subsidies to NR. Our policy is to expand the rail network, both in capacity and extent, and that would require more funds, not less.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    David C Smith: In the ORR figures there is a table on private investment, so you can check it for yourself. Have to say, though, the amounts stumped up by the TOCs are pretty unimpressive. I think most of the money goes into stations, but certain not the hundreds of millions needed for substantial service improvements.

    This, I think, is the main argument against privatisation: not the hyperbole over masses of funds being creamed off by fat cats, but simply the lack of advantages. TOCs only make a profit of 3% of income, but what are we actually getting in return for that 3%? Not enough to convince me this is working.

  • david c smith, milton keynes

    One of the main aims of passengger rail privatisation was to access private investment capital, thus making government borrowing figures look better. But since the inception of the Strategic Rail Authority and subsequent transfer of its powers to DfT, the possibilities for private investment initiatives have bedome minimal, with tight governmental control over service patterns and procurements.

    Have we just ended up with a "worst of both worlds / pretend privatised" passenger railway with TOC's creaming off profit just for doing what DfT tell them to do ?

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Oh dear, this is precisely the reason why I won't vote for the Green Party. There are a number of valid arguments to renationalise the railways, and Caroline Lucas misses every one of them, preferring instead to focus on easy soundbites that wouldn't withstand 30 seconds of scrutiny.

    The reality is that, for most of the history of railways, they have usually been on the rise whilst private and on the decline whilst nationalised. That's more of a coincidence that a cause, but to imply that Britain was a world leader in transport because of nationalised railways is plain wrong.

    What concerns me that most is that the Greens seem to think that you can solve all the money problems by renationalisation. Yes, there is still a lot of taxpayer subsidy, but it does not go into the pockets of greedy fat cats, however exciting the Greens might find this prospect - it's going to Network Rail for hugely expensive but essential investment.

    My concern is that if the Greens get their way, in order to prove the point that nationalisation solves everything, they'll cancel the subsidies to Network Rail, declare nationalisation a success, claim that all the expensive improvements weren't necessary anyway, and 10 years later we'll be paying a very heavy price.