By Chris Guiton
In a recent interview with Progress, Maria Eagle, shadow transport secretary, has denied any ambition to re-nationalise the rail network, stating ‘I’m not interested in setting up some monolithic, centrally-run-from-my-desk nationalised body to run everything to public ownership.’ Instead, she waffled about devolving power to local communities. You wonder if this represents a retreat from her earlier more positive response to the ‘Rebuilding Rail’ report published by the think tank Transport for Quality of Life, on behalf of the main rail unions: Aslef, RMT, TSSA and Unite.
The report sets out a strategy for how public ownership of the railway could be restored and how a future Labour government could reintegrate rail operations and infrastructure. It calls for Labour to make a number of commitments: use money saved from reintegration to lower fares; award no new franchises; review all existing franchises to assess whether they should be bought out; reduce ‘dividend leakage’; and campaign against the European Commission’s intention for member states to open domestic passenger services to competition.
With rail fares set to rise in January 2013 by inflation plus 3% – in effect, up to 11% depending on the franchise terms, Labour are clearly missing a trick here. Even Tory MPs are waking up to the impact of fare rises on their constituents – and those in marginal seats with significant commuter populations appear to be getting decidedly nervous. Many Croydon residents use the train service to commute to London and elsewhere, and with no prospect in sight of an end to this grossly unfair squeeze on rapidly diminishing incomes, people are justifiably angry. The case for re-nationalisation is well-understood. A publicly owned, integrated rail network would deliver a better service, cost the taxpayer and commuters less and avoid the excessive transaction costs and profiteering generated by privatisation.
Every reason for Labour to be bolder and for Croydon voters to act accordingly!