Robin Wilde Communications Officer 23rd January 2020 Blog Transport Share Tweet As the new decade begins, two more of Britain’s rail operators find themselves in dire straits. The process for stripping Northern, which operates services across the North of England and has been criticised for its use of old rolling stock and unreliable services, has already begun. Most recently, the government warned that South Western Railways is “not sustainable” after losses of £137m in the previous financial year. Anyone who travels on Northern trains as much as I do knows they aren’t fit for purpose – frequently late or cancelled, always busy, without seat bookings, and although the Pacers have at long last been scrapped, still using cramped, outdated stock. It’s at least a small relief that the Government is finally reacting to the reality of the situation. But, with the prospect of two further nationalisations coming into view, we are again faced with the realities of a fragmented and unwieldy franchising structure in which many operators seem unable to provide the basics of a rail network – reliable, affordable services with reasonably modern rolling stock which deliver sufficient revenue to invest in improved services without driving the operators out of the market. Reviewing the franchise for Northern and South Western Railway are a sticking plaster on an industry with much wider, structural problems. Rather than continuing with our current model, in which the state is regularly called upon to act as a breakdown service for dysfunctional franchises, the Co-operative Party has explored a model of democratic public ownership, in which the railways are run by accountable not-for-profit train service providers, replacing the private train companies like Northern and South Western Railways. This would mean passengers and rail workers would have a real say in the running of services, priorities for investment, and executive pay. Polls show a large majority of the public agree that railways should be held in public, rather than private hands. We agree, but we also believe that handing power from a CEO to a Secretary of State goes only some of the way towards fixing the issues with Britain’s railways. By handing power to those who are most invested in how railways work on the ground, we can have a rail network which is responsive and responsible to consumers and employees alike. Figures from the Office of Rail and Road show that most of the investment in Britain’s railways is already provided by passenger fares and by government investment, with relatively little coming from private business. With the railways in democratic public ownership, investment could continue along long-term strategic lines, without the potential points of failure provided by the Train Operating Companies, as we have seen in recent years with Northern, South Western and Virgin East Coast. By withdrawing contracts from TOCs as they expire, a government implementing democratic public ownership could avoid the potential high costs of compensation for franchisees, and gradually set up an alternative, more accountable ownership structure, bringing in passengers, employees and local authorities. Our current rail network is not fit for purpose either for passengers, employees, franchise holders or the state – but a bold co-operative vision may yet be able to fix it.