As the working year of 2016 commences, a new poll has shown that railway commuters are paying around six times what their counterparts in Europe are paying. And the discontent these figures will create is likely to boost the Labour party’s campaign to renationalise Britain’s railways.
Fares have already risen this year by an average of 1.1%. And on 4 January, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was at King’s Cross station in London alongside union leaders to hand out leaflets to passengers in protest at this increase. According to TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, the British government has for too long been
allowing train companies to milk the system at taxpayers’ and commuters’ expense.
Labour insists that commuters are now paying 25% more on average for their season tickets since David Cameron became prime minister in 2010. In other words, it says, people’s transportation costs have risen “three times faster than wages” have in the last five years. No wonder Corbyn is making the case more than ever for railway renationalisation:
The railways are a sustainable, good form of transport and they should be affordable for all… What we want is the train operating companies brought into public ownership.
This policy was outlined at the 2015 Labour conference, when the party promised:
- To “return private rail franchises into public ownership when they come to an end”. This would mean around a third could be brought back into public ownership by 2025 if Corbyn wins the 2020 general election. The five franchises due to expire between 2020 and 2025 are Thameslink, Southern, and Great Northern, Chiltern Railways, East Coast, Transpennine Express, and Northern.
- To establish a “new dynamic public operator” which would reinvest profits into rail infrastructure and the reduction of fares.
- To oppose the break-up or privatisation of Network Rail.
Passengers in Britain are currently spending 13% of their wages on travel while Italian commuters pay 2%, Spanish pay 3%, and Germans pay 4%. At the same time, a significant part of the British railway system is owned by states like Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and China. And according to TSSA union general secretary Manuel Cortes, the profit made by these governments from Britain’s railways is simply “repatriated” in order to subsidise the journeys of their own citizens. Jeremy Corbyn has used this fact to attack the Conservative government, saying:
the Tories have no objections to public ownership so long as the British public don’t get the benefit.
The Labour leader calls the current system a “national disgrace”. For that reason, he says:
a modern, publicly owned People’s Railway is central to our plans to rebalance economic growth.
According to a recent YouGov poll, 62% of Brits agree that public ownership of the railways should be reconsidered. Their main question is: if British railways are so profitable for foreign states and private corporations, why should Britain not reap the benefits for itself? Or put another way, why shouldn’t profits be invested in improving infrastructure and reducing travel costs for British travellers rather than going into someone else’s pockets?
And with shadow chancellor John McDonnell insisting that the Labour party is now “fully behind bringing the railways back into public ownership”, it seems that Corbyn’s Labour is now at the forefront of this popular campaign.
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