by Amanda Ramsay
The department for transport’s fiasco over the west coast mainline has cost the public purse a staggering amount: £40 million for the delays in negotiations with a startling £100 million estimated as the compensation bill. And all of this before the costs of re-running new bidding processes are taken into account!
The knock-on effect of this incompetence has held-up local and intercity rail services, to and from Bristol and in and around the city. On top of the delay and job insecurity for staff at First Great Western, the costs are hideous at a time of cuts that are threatening vital services in communities across the land.
More than ever, we need a publicly owned and integrated railway.
Public opinion is behind bringing rail back into public ownership, hardly surprising when it is estimated that £1.2billion pounds of taxpayers’ money could be saved every year by re-integrating the railways, simplifying the system for passengers and management alike. Over time this saving could be the equivalent of an across the board cut in fares of 18%.
Using this £1.2bn a year could pay for a gradual acquisition of passenger franchises; train operating companies could simply be absorbed into a public “passenger operations” organisation, as existing private franchises expire.
Remember it’s tax payers’ money not that of private companies that’s paid out literally billions in pounds since privatisation upgrading the tracks and signalling, making possible today’s faster, more reliable and more frequent trains.
Bringing rail back into public ownership is no pipe-dream. This has already happened on the east coast mainline. Labour brought the line back into government control in 2009. £187 million was paid back into the exchequer last year, rather than a few pockets of shareholders.
The beauty of the concept is crystal clear: money made over and above operating costs goes back to the Treasury. This allows for investment and planned reduction in ticket charges. At a time of austerity, both rebalancing the economy and keeping the cost of living under control would be direct benefits.
Operating companies like First Group get millions each year in subsidy to lease trains. There is no reason why that money can’t be used by a public passenger operating service. Then market the tickets to make the money needed to make it all add up.
At present, public money is being wasted because of the complexity and highly fragmented nature of our railways. Large sums of money are lost to the inefficiencies of the mind-bending complexity of contractual agreements between hundreds of companies. This is the Tory legacy of failed privatisation.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle MP describes the current situation as “a something for nothing culture” across public transport, where train companies make big profits from high levels of public subsidy.
Rail privatisation has failed. The Conservatives promised their much coveted privatised railway scheme would require zero subsidy, which after tens of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has proved complete rubbish.
Amanda Ramsay is a Bristol South Labour party community campaigner