A new era of public ownership of the railways could save the Treasury more than £1bn a year (1) and deliver improved services and lower rail fares for passengers, said the UK’s Green MP today.
In a Private Member’s Bill to be presented in Parliament, Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) will urge that England’s fragmented railway system be gradually brought back into public hands as franchises expire or companies break the terms of their franchise agreement.
The call follows reports this week from the TSSA union that Network Rail bosses could earn more than £10m in bonuses over the next three years under a new scheme – as well as RMT figures showing that 65% of Britain's rail operators are owned by overseas companies, with 60% owned by European state rail arms.
Caroline Lucas MP 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% compared to a 7% drop in the cost of motoring, while in recent years the bill for the taxpayer of running the trains has shot up by 2 to 3 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% of their operating profits to shareholders (The Great Train Robbery, TUC).
"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.”
Lucas, whose Private Members Bill is being by supported by a number of Labour backbenchers and Plaid Cymru MPs, continued:
"If the government really wants to make savings and improve our transport network for everyone, it should recognise that privatisation has failed and gradually return the railways to public ownership.
"By taking back individual franchises when they expire or when a company fails to meet its franchise conditions, the state could save over £1 billion a year every year – an amount that can be spent on improving services and reducing rail fares.
"The government’s argument that our railways must be privately operated to be effective is blown open by the RMT figures showing that, in fact, that companies backed by other EU states are controlling many of our railways – depriving taxpayers and rail passengers in the UK of the savings created by state ownership."