Rail fare rises: railways should be run for passengers, not shareholders

The case for renationalisation is clear - and popular



As many Britons return to work today, having eaten the last of the Christmas pudding, sung Auld Lang Syne and watched the traditional movies, they’ll being experiencing one final less-than-festive tradition – the raising of the rail fares.

The privatised train-operating companies are putting the expected spin on the rise: “Only 1.1 per cent“, they say, “the lowest rise for six years”.

That’s conveniently ignoring the fact that the rail companies are using the Retail Price Index, much higher than the Consumer Price Index which is the most common (and lower) measure.

But it was the campaign group Railfuture that really was on-the-money in its explanation of the direction of travel of rail fares, saying fares were “increasingly divorced from reality”.

There’s a real parallel here with property prices, also entirely out of scale with most workers’ pay.

The rise means an annual season ticket from Cheltenham Spa to London will cost £9,800 (heading toward half of an annual average salary of £26,500); Liverpool to Manchester will cost a smidge under £3,000.

Property prices are forcing more and more workers to commute longer and longer distances because they can’t afford rents or mortgages (with damaging impacts on their health, on family life and communities), but they’re also left less and less able to pay for that commute.

It’s almost as though successive governments have been trying to force people into their cars – despite the massive problems of congestion, of air pollution and community disruption caused by motor traffic.

Consider the fact that as Green MP Caroline Lucas found, between 1980 and 2013 the cost of motoring fell by 12 per cent while train travel cost rose by 62 per cent and bus and coach rose by 59 per cent.

Now, you might think that if perhaps services had improved, if passengers were seeing a better quality of service, there might be a justification for the rise. But still more than one in 10 trains is late.

I spend about three days a week travelling by train in Britain, which means the quality of service really matters to me.

And I get really passionate about changing our failed privatised system about once a week on average – whether it is having water dumped on my head and laptop from an airconditioning glitch on a Virgin train, enduring the almost inevitable delays of trains through Reading in the late evening, or putting up with the hideous Pendelino pong.

It’s past time to acknowledge that this is a system which is failing to provide us with the efficient, affordable, reliable transport that we need for the 21st century.

The fragmentation is costing us, the Rebuilding Rail report estimated, £1.2billion a year.

We’ve got services run for maximisation of profit, not for the benefit of passengers and communities.

And we have services that are simply poor quality, unreliable, and remarkably poor value for money.

Even time I use the Eurostar to Brussels I’m again reminded that it is cheaper, more reliable, and far less complicated than getting from London to Manchester or Liverpool by train.

That’s a reminder too that this isn’t just an issue for harried commuters in cattle-truck-like conditions, or families forced into their cars by expensive tickets. It’s also an economic issue – an excellent train system is a critical part of a modern economy.

I’ll be thinking of that next time I’m contemplating with a sigh a journey on the Transpenine so-called Express: a perfect reminder of the failure to provide for the needs of our economy and society (and how the infrastructure focus has been on London and the South East).

Bringing the railways back into public hands is one of the Green Party’s most popular policies – it’s even supported by a majority of Tory voters.

This morning I joined campaigners at King’s Cross station drawing attention to the rail fare rise, and to the obvious step, as set out in Green MP Caroline Lucas’s private member’s bill, to take franchises back into public hands as they lapse or terms are breached.

The government doesn’t have a solid majority in parliament, and the argument for change are clear and popular.

Today is a great day to think about how we might get together and seek to make that bill law – and start running our railways for the benefit of passengers, not shareholders.

Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party. Follow her on Twitter

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15 Responses to “Rail fare rises: railways should be run for passengers, not shareholders”

  1. Mal Ferguson

    What’s missing from this article is whether or not privatisation was value for money for taxpayers. I recall reading something a while ago that suggested that the privatised railways cost the public purse THREE TIMES as much per passenger mile, in real terms, as British Rail did. The case for renationalisation really does appear overwhelming.

  2. Intolerant_Liberal

    The whole privatisation argument, for most things that were nationalised, I seem to recall, went thus:
    It would create competition, therefore it would lower the prices of tickets and gas, leccy and etc, and so be good for consumers… That has already been proved a pile of horse sh*t…
    And, it would be good for the taxpayer because those industries privatised would get less subsidies… that, too, has already been proved a pile of horse sh*t… The railways particularly are getting far more than they ever did when they were nationalised. The privatised industries benefit the wealthiest and the affluent, at the expense of the poor and those who want to get on. This isn’t just the very poorest and those on benefit being crushed, it is ANYONE NOT WEALTHY, CONNECTED OR PRIVILEGED.

  3. Sid

    Remember – Politicians and civil servants always know best how to run a railway !!!

  4. Asteri

    Privatisation of British Rail was about creating monopolies not competition. Unless another company was willing to build another railway system and charge cheaper fares, you aren’t going to have competition.

  5. Chester Draws

    If railways aren’t run for shareholders, then they are run for the staff of the railways. That leads to the “good” old days, which weren’t that fantastic actually. Expensive for the state and not great for the punters.

    “Run for passengers” is only possible if the passengers have some way of enforcing their will on the railways. Without that there is no way that whoever runs the lines will pay more than lip service to them. That the cost of motoring fell is not hugely useful to know, since it is not nationalised and responds to market pressure.

    As usual Natalie ignores this, because she knows its unsolvable. But privatisation is always bad, “because bad”.

  6. andagain

    How is renationalisation supposed to put more trains on the track?

    The trains are already as long and large as will fit into the stations, and as frequent as the signalling system will allow. The only way to get more capacity is to improve the infrastructure – and that is the responsibility of the already publically owned Network Rail.

  7. andagain

    They didn’t need to privatise BR to create a monopoly. They already had one of those.

  8. andagain

    Perhaps, but I have read articles in Rail magazine to the effet that the total subsidy for BR, including all its tax breaks, was about the same as now. For half as many passenger miles.

  9. Brad JJ

    Cost of renationalising then savings to be made should be available from someone in this country filled to the gunnel’s with experts at a ton of universities. Maybe they could throw in their latest projections on long-term rail infrastructure costs taking into account that many of our bridges and embankments are in their declining years – as the floods are demonstrating.

  10. Asteri

    There is something about railways that really sets Thatcherites off.

    Let me explain, a railway is a public service that requires investments, it is not a company selling a product to make a profit. The stupid belief that travel is a product of choice rather than a necessity of living has led to the private operators making a profit by fleecing commuters who have no choice but to use their monopoly; while continuing to receive huge state subsidies.


    You are a long winded knob. Privatisation means those with money buy the asset at knock down prices.
    If the asset is re nationalised the asset strippers get a profit again. Then if it is privatised again the asset strippers make a fortune again and it goes on and on. The politicians are buying the shares! Joke, Aye.

  12. Richard Gadsden

    The worst part of privatisation was not and is not the train operating companies – half of which aren’t even private companies anyway (Abellio is the Dutch nationalised railway, Arriva the German nationalised railway, etc).

    It’s the rolliing-stock operators. If your plan for renationalising railways doesn’t mention Porterbrook, Angel Trains and Eversholt, then you need to go and do some more work on it. Trains that had been built entirely using public funds by BR were sold off for a fraction of their worth to the rolling-stock companies (Roscos). Some trains are now rented out for annual rents that are more than the Rosco paid for the train. Imagine a house where the annual rent was more than you could buy the house for: you’d be making a fortune!

    And they are. The three Roscos make more profits than all the train operators combined. Nationalise all the train operators and you still haven’t removed even 50% of the private-sector profits from the railways. The rolling-stock companies don’t have franchises that expire, so there’s no way to just wait them out. We’d have to buy back the trains – and you can be sure that they wouldn’t give the public sector a discount! – or build entirely new trains to replace the ones they own. Sure, you could create a new public-sector Rosco, and all new trains would go there, but typical trains have a fifty-year lifespan, so you’d complete your renationalisation in 2066.

    There is no easy or cheap solution to this problem. If only there were. I don’t have any suggestions for fixing it, other than a warning: renationalising the Roscos will be expensive, keeping them going will also be expensive, as they continue to extract profit from the system.

    Oh, and that Pendolino you don’t like? Doesn’t belong to Virgin, in spite of all the Branson propaganda. It belongs to Angel Trains. Virgin just rent it. Complain about Angel all you like.

  13. Intolerant_Liberal

    ‘You are a long winded knob’ What’s that got to do with anything? Presumably you’re just a knob? I know it’s all a scam whatever happens, but when it was nationalised it was no better or worse, but much cheaper. Happy??

  14. Intolerant_Liberal

    Yes, there is no simple solution, but in the UK the last consideration seems always to be the ordinary person who has no choice but to use whatever, and then this government and profiteers collude to squeeze as much as possible out of people in every possible way. Whatever works best for the regular person isn’t even a consideration, that is probably what irks most people who have to use trains.


    How do you know it was cheaper?

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