Posted 26th June 2017 | 13 Comments

Corbyn confirms Labour rail nationalisation plans

LABOUR Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed his plans to renationalise the railways.

He made the pledge at the annual conference of the RMT.

The railways are only partly privately run at the moment, because Network Rail has been a government body in the public sector since September 2014. Even so, writing in the July edition of Railnews, Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne says: “We are on the move and changing from what some people described as ‘a state-regulated monopoly’ into one that’s decentralised, devolved, innovative and customer focused – an organisation that thinks and operates just like any savvy, enterprising, private sector business.”

Labour’s target appears to be the franchised passenger operators, and it has been speculated that there are two ways of ending their participation, One is to allow the existing franchises to terminate naturally, and the second is to take advantage of ‘break points’ which exist in some contracts.

Forcible confiscation of current franchises is unlikely because franchise-holders could challenge this in court, and claim substantial damages for breach of contract and loss of profits.

Labour has not mentioned other private sector elements within the railway industry, such as the rolling stock leasing companies or freight operators. Again, any forced renationalisation of the kind authorised by the now-repealed 1947 Transport Act would probably be very expensive.

Mr Corbyn said: “The next Labour government will introduce a Public Ownership of the Railways Bill to repeal the Tories’ 1993 Railways Act that privatised our railways. We want our railways run in the public interest with fare rises capped, service levels improved and stations and trains safely staffed.‎”

His pledge was welcomed by the audience at the RMT annual conference on 25 June. The union’s general secretary Mick Cash responded: “RMT is delighted that, Jeremy Corbyn, our long-term friend and comrade, has set out ‎a vision for the transport industry in Britain that frees us from the profiteering and fragmentation of privatisation and which would allow the public to own and control the services that they rely on. That is a clean break from more than two decades of the privatised rip-off that has consigned Britain to the transport slow lane.

“The mood in the country has very clearly changed since the Tories called the General Election. Cuts, austerity and privatised greed are on the way out and a Labour government with a programme dedicated to the many and not the few is waiting in the wings. RMT will do everything we can to make sure that ‎that Government, committed to public ownership and workers' rights, arrives sooner rather than later.”

If franchises are allowed to fade away, the process seems likely to be prolonged and would continue through several Parliaments. Unless break points are available, the longest English franchise, c2c, is not set to end until November 2029, while the forthcoming West Coast Partnership, which is to start in April 2019, is planned to run for at least ten years and possibly until 2031.

It is also not clear what would happen to franchises awarded by devolved authorities. Apart from Transport for London contracts, there is one in England – Merseyrail – one in Wales and two in Scotland. Several light rail systems are also run under concession arrangements, although two of these, Tyne & Wear Metro and Midland Metro trams, have lost or will soon lose their private sector operators. Tyne & Wear Metro may be relet in a couple of years from now, but on Midland Metro the transfer to local authority operation is intended to be permanent.

Note: the July edition of Railnews will be published on 5 July.

Reader Comments:

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

  • John B, London

    I also remember BR days, more precisely NSE days. The service was far better than what we have with Southern now. Other than greater capacity due to platform lengthening, the NSE service on the Oxted line was superior in every other respect, in particular value for money.

    BR has to bear some responsibility for Beeching as it failed to sufficiently prune the network of unremunerative routes. There's also an argument that its management failed to move with the times and didn't have enough commercial nous in the way that, for example, Peter Parker did.

  • claydon william, Norwich, Norfolk

    I'm old enough to remember BR days well as employee and customer; services were generally very poor, and it was pointless complaining about anything, because nobody could be bothered to reply. The network was run as a big jobs club, and no one gave a jot about customer service.

    The current franchise system is far from perfect, and ought to be re-designed so 'natural competition' between franchises is inherent within them to keep downward pressure on fares; but the growth and quality of the current network is impressive; albeit expensive.

    I do not believe a nationalised network could've handled the growth in rail travel over the last 20 years, or have been any catalyst for it.

    Some of the problems with nationalisation IMO are......

    1) You give Len McCluskey a big train-set to play with.
    2) Corbyn can indeed 'nationalise' the franchises when they expire, but the franchises do not own the train fleets. Leasing companies will jack up their prices massively when Corbyn comes knocking
    3) History shows us that in any Labour Treasury meeting, schools and health will always win any investment arguments over rail investment. Rail investment under 'nationalisation' will plummet.

    [this comment has been edited for length]

  • jak jaye, surrey

    To blame BR for Beeching is pointless,he was appointed by a Tory Government to try and bring it back to profit and bad as he was it was the next (Labour) Government that closed lines he recommended kept open.
    Yes BR had its faults(S&C closure anyone?) but they did alot right i.e.Merry Go Round Coal traffic and Freightliners as well as the superb HST's still going strong today, can you imagine todays plastic foreign stuff doing the same?
    No today's railway is no better and alot more worse in some areas such as industrial relations Govia and SWT in particular.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Yes, BR did improve a bit latterly ; this was likely related to the "sectorisation" programme where each sector was able to focus on its own particular operation, instead of just being part of an amorphous monolith.

  • John B, London

    As a footnote, it's worth bearing in mind that BR did much good in its final years. Projects such as the Robin Hood line which would never have got off the ground now. If I'm not mistaken, they had a few more in the pipeline such as the Dunstable branch before privatisation intervened. We can only but wonder how much could have been achieved with a properly-funded BR.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Looking at the history of the past 100 years, it seems pretty evident that big, monolithic , "command and control" models of public ownership just don't work well, not least in the case of BR. The nationalised railway did indeed have the 1955 modernisation plan, but this increasingly became unaffordable and a lot of it was modelled on outdated concepts such as giant marshalling yards.

    There are other forms of public ownership, such as consumer or worker cooperatives, which could well suit local and commuter rail operations.

    Infrastructure is only suitable for public ownership, being an inherent natural monopoly ; perhaps we should copy Sweden with a single managing body for both rail and road infrastructure?

    Both railfreight and longer distance passenger seem obvious candidates for competitive private sector operation. The bus industry, by comparison, makes distinction between the treatment of local and longer distance operations.

    Privatisation seemed to start quite well ( apart from Railtrack) but successive governments progressively neutered the potential for innovation, enterprise and long term investment by the TOC's.

    As a footnote, I'm old enough to remember the whole BR era, and am a long standing politically non - aligned "floating voter".

  • John B, London

    The success (or lack of it) of the post-war nationalisation of the railways has to be put into its context. At the time, Britain unlike other European countries was slow to rebuild and modernise the railways after the war. When an attempt was finally made in 1955 with the modernisation plan, the bulk of it was cancelled by a Transport minister more interested in the roads (Marples) and the funds transferred to the Treasury.

    Add to this, the Transport Act 1953, passed by the Tories when they got back into office, which deregulated the road haulage industry, yet left intact the 19th century controls on rail which saddled the railways with common carrier status. This made effective competition with road transport very difficult.

    There is no reason to believe that a re-nationalisation of the railways would end in another Beeching axe. On the contrary, the road transport bias that prevailed from the 1960s onwards is largely over, with even the Tories believing that the railways have to be properly funded. At present, we have a system which privatises the profits, yet nationalises the costs, run by the majority of operators on business model which gives them little incentive to innovate beyond the franchise requirement.

  • David Cook, Broadstone, Dorset

    I really do not understand the obsession with another bout of Nationalisation on the railways. The 1940's Nationalisation was a disaster, everybody who rode on trains in the 1960's and 70's were always saying about how good railways were in foreign countries. Now we have foreign railway operators involved with running our railways, it is suddenly a terrible thing. Being old enough to have lived through the Beeching era of mass line closures and ripping up of tracks (which could have been quietly left to see what the future held), I am rather wary of change for changes sake, especially when it is being done for the benefit of the unions, who seem to have a stranglehold on Labour, which could in turn become a stranglehold on our country and it's ability to move passengers and freight.....

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Only lead to Nationwide Strikes just like in the 1970s. Who would want to invest today in new Trains and Technology if they know this is coming down the tracks soon ?

  • Tim Haaris, London


  • John B, London

    Excellent news. Even more reason to vote Labour in the forthcoming elections.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    What frustrates me is that there's a lot more to Labour's rail policies than renationalisation, including lines that the Government is at best dragging its heels over, but there doesn't appear to be any enthusiasm to actually push for it.

    If Corbyn et al pushed for a new/improved Brighton Main Line as vigorously as they're pushing for renationalisation, they would probably get it.

  • Noam Bleicher, Oxford

    I'm agnostic on the actual ownership, but this move does eventually offer the opportunity to organise the offering [trains, ticketing, online] around passenger segments instead of the current production-led approach of regional franchises. We should start with re-instating the globally-recognised Inter City brand, with consistent standards across all long-distance services. The same consistency could then be applied to regional operations, then rural, and finally an Overground/S-Bahn network for all our urban areas.