'Renationalisation is the best option for Britain's railways'

Following the debacle over the awarding of the West Coast Mainline rail franchise, MSN asked its users how they felt Britain's railways should be run. More than three quarters of 6,000 people who voted said passengers would be better off under a nationalised system. Here, Alan Francis, Transport Spokesman for the Green Party explains why public ownership is the right option

Britain's rail system was privatised under John Major

The railways were privatised by John Major's Conservative government. The Railways Act 1993 broke British Rail into 100 companies and sold them off. The privatised rail companies paid about £5 billion for the whole of BR at privatisation (all the real estate, track, rolling stock etc). They have now received many times that in subsidy so the railways were effectively given away.

At the time a wide range of groups, including the Green Party, objected to rail privatisation and the fragmentation of the industry. We said: "It will lead to higher fares, line closures, less frequent services, reduced safety, the loss of through ticketing, rail cards and other network benefits. Privatisation will be a disaster for the travelling public and many railway jobs will be lost as services are cut." Sadly we were right.

The most recent example of the failure of the system is the £40m cost to the taxpayer to compensate four private firms who took part in a bidding process for the West Country Main Line that had become so complicated that as well as being expensive it was almost impossible to manage.

However, even this is only a tiny fraction of the money that is wasted on the privatised railways every year. A recent report estimated that rail privatisation and the fragmentation of the rail industry is costing passengers and taxpayers an extra £1.2bn per year.

Each train operating company has a franchise for a period between 5 and 15 years. As these franchises expire they are re-let by the Department for Transport. But instead of re-letting the franchises in a clearly flawed process they should stay in the public sector. This would cost absolutely nothing and would eventually return all of the TOCs to the public sector.

The 3 rolling stock companies, which own all of the trains, are themselves owned by banks. Ultimately they should also be brought back into public ownership but that will be expensive and probably have to be phased.

Responsibility for improving, as well as maintaining tracks should also be taken back into the public sector.
In order to provide the country with a railway system fit for the 21st century far more money will be required. The governments of other European countries invest far more per capita in their railways than the UK has done over recent decades. Quite simply, to get the railway network in this country up to European standards will require European levels of investment.

But rail fares must be affordable. The government allows train companies to increase regulated fares by up to 1% more than inflation each year. Many other fares are not regulated and increase far more. So rail fares are becoming more expensive in real terms.

Since privatisation, public subsidy for rail services has more than doubled, while fares are higher than any country in Europe

The Green Party wants to bring all rail services back into public ownership, to ensure the best deal for rail users and all taxpayers.