A poll conducted by The Independent has revealed that 58% of the British public believe privatisation of the railways to be a failure. The poll also found 64% would support bringing them back into public ownership, and only 19% would oppose it. This is evidence that the British public overwhelmingly back Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to bring the railways back into public ownership.
It’s not difficult to see why. Lately, there has been chaos on private operators, with Govia Thameslink Rail (GTR) and Northern Rail struggling to cope with timetable changes. This has left thousands of passengers stranded due to delays and cancellations. More than 15,000 trains were cancelled or delayed in May alone.
However, even if the private operators were actually running trains, it would still be better to have public ownership of our rail operators. It would cut the cost to the taxpayer and help create a better quality of service.
We currently pay huge subsidies to the private rail operators. The rail operators, mainly private companies like Virgin, or foreign governments, receive £4.2bn in subsidies from the British government per year. Adjusted with inflation, this 3x times than what was paid when train operators were under public ownership. For every 1km you travel on a train, our government pays 5.1p to a private operator. The franchise system works by the government topping up private companies balance books if they don’t meet their target revenue. Private operators have made a profit of £3.5 bn in the last 10 years of operation. Money that could be used elsewhere in the public sector.
This profit incentive for the train companies also causes further problems. In a normal market, prices are in theory kept low by competition. But competition doesn’t exist in the rail industry. If you want to get from Warwick to London you have to go on Chiltern Railways for example. Private firms with monopolised markets has led to rampant price increases. A one way ticket from London to Manchester has increased by 238%, from £50 in 1995 to £169 today. The UK has the most expensive rail prices in Western Europe, with British passengers spending 6x times more than their European counterparts.
We are therefore paying private companies to rip off passengers. It is a mad system that needs changing.
It therefore makes logical sense to bring the operators into public ownership and make the profits ourselves. The recently nationalised East Coast Main Line delivered a profit of £217 million in 2013. Money that can either go into investment or back into the treasury. Why continue to subsidise private corporations and foreign governments to provide us with shoddy public transport?
It must be remembered that we already own the infrastructure. The main complaint about National Rail when they were in operation was that they didn’t spend enough on infastructure. Network Rail, a publicly owned company, now owns the infrastructure, and provides this service in an acceptable way. The problems that faced our public railways 50 years ago would not be problems today.
It’s also worth noting that not only does the UK have some of the highest rail prices in Western Europe, but it also has the most delays and cancellations. In a fixed period, 83% of trains in Britain ran within five minutes of their schedule. In Germany, this figure was 92%.
The reason for this superior service is accountability. We have seen this week the ease in which the government can lay the blame on operators and Network Rail, and how other institutions can blame the government. With the government directly responsible for the railways, they will be held accountable by commuters and voters.
Finally, the most efficient train operator in this country is TFL, a publicly owned operator. An excellent example of the great service a publicly company can provide.
Nationalise the railways, and we will all reap vast benefits.