Like other outgoings the cost of living misery under the Tories continues, the cost of rail travel has soared since 2010. The latest statistics show that over the last five years regulated fares have increased by 25% whilst the cost of season tickets on some routes have risen by as much 38%. In an anomaly that could only exist within the shambles that is UK rail, the Government have allowed fares to rise this year in line with the retail prices index despite changing almost every other uprating measure to the customarily lower consumer prices index.
Here in the North-West we’ve had the Tories talking up the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ whilst the reality of rail travel for most commuters is one of increasing fares to travel on what are overcrowded, dirty and often dated trains. The pre-election promises for regional infrastructure investment that were made here in Crewe have all quickly evaporated away leaving us to conclude that all the higher cost of train travel really funds is the profit margins of the private train companies.
It is clear there is no supporting business case behind the Tory government’s persistence with private rail just pure arrogant, ideological belief. In most European countries apart from Britain, the tracks and other infrastructure are state-owned and there is also a state-owned train operator that provides the majority of passenger train services.
We should not forget of course that even Margaret Thatcher, the arch advocate of private is best, recognised that privatising rail was “a privatisation too far”. Of course public interest rarely features in Tory politics and by the mid-1990s, amid the grand promise of cheaper and improved services for both passengers and the taxpayer, rail privatisation was enacted. The entire political argument for the privatisation was based upon “the transformative role” that private business expertise was going to bring to our rail industry.
Well years later it is now dazzlingly apparent that this ill-thought out vision has comprehensively failed in every respect. Today’s railways receive billions more from the taxpayer whilst passengers are left to pay the highest price for train travel in Europe. Astonishingly private train operators get huge sums of money from the taxpayer that they simply pay to their shareholders as profit.
Those who seek to excuse the disaster of private rail use a number of false claims to mask the failure of privatisation. Quite simply the year-on-year cost of running our rail network has more than doubled in real terms since privatisation from £2.4Bn to £5.4Bn. Official figures show that all but one of the private train operators receive more in subsidies than they return in franchise payments to the government.
Rail is the lifeblood of our communities and our economy. We need a railway that delivers for people before profit. We need to replace the failed private model with a state-owned, coherently operated railway. We need to bring the train operators and Network Rail back into state-ownership. We need to end the costly and wasteful rolling stock leasing system and buy our new trains outright using government purchasing to support UK train building.
Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has at last committed to renationalise our railway and ensure it is operated for the people rather than for private profit.