Head to Head: should Britain’s railways be renationalised?


Should Britain’s railways be renationalised? Jeremy Corbyn is strongly in favour of renationalising Britain’s railways and thus this debate is likely to resurface during the 2017 general election campaigns. George Aylett, former Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate and prominent political activist, is in agreement with Mr Corbyn. However, social media heavyweight and political commentator, Robbie Travers, isn’t convinced by the arguments made by George and others. But what do you think? Read both arguments below and vote in our poll.

Political Commentator Robbie Travers: “The solution isn’t the status quo; the solution, however, isn’t nationalisation.”

The “renationalisation of the railways” in the United Kingdom has always been an interesting fetish of the far left, something that they claim has widespread public support and polling indicates that they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to note this.

But “nationalisation of the railways” is misleading, unhelpful and doesn’t solve problems, and simply creates more.

Firstly, renationalisation is a misnomer. Britain owns the actual physical railways of this nation via Network Rail, what the Government does is contracts for private companies to operate on those railways, so what would be occurring would be the removal of competition, which actually drives prices down when creating plans for investment in Britain’s rail system.

If anything, more Government control, over prices, would be harmful for commuters and customers. If they want a better service, prices can’t be controlled by Government without a substantial degradation of services.

If anything, more Government control leaves infrastructure and railway system management at the hands of Governments, and this means that political interference could halt progress made, and abruptly cause changes of course. Even Critics of privatisation of railways like Christian Wolmar admit that the Department for Transport has “far more involvement in the day to day running of the railways than it ever did in the days of BR. We have far less freedom to make key decisions than we did then.” Companies have less freedom due to extensive political oversight to implement crucial reforms. How will nationalisation help this situation?

George will undoubtedly point towards failings in the current rail system, like the fact that these franchises tend to be monopolies, but this isn’t an argument for a state-enforced monopoly. Quite the opposite, this is an argument for more competition and more rival providers.

If we ensure more competition occurs in the railway market, it will likely lower costs for consumers and actually make our railways providers examine how best to provide high standard services at enticing prices. Companies would be competing for customers, trying to find the best way to provide the best quality of service at the best price. This is how to make travel not only more affordable but to generate employment by creating jobs with even more companies and businesses vying to make a profit.

Our railways do, also, get a bad name that they don’t deserve, you’ve undoubtedly heard them compared to Europe, but did you know British trains are more punctual than their counterparts in France, they are safer and they currently have the superlative ratings for customer satisfaction in Europe. There are twice as many railway journeys occurring as of 2013 than did in 1994.

Voters in the North of England and other rural areas will also note that the vast majority of rail journeys occur to London and in the region of London, many of them will ask why their taxes should ensure the fares of commuters on higher salaries and living in wealthier areas should be lower? Nationalisation may actually mean that we do not see a fair share of resources, and that may not necessarily aid the arguments of the left.

Finally, the 1960s saw massive railway closures by British Rail under the notorious ‘Beeching Cuts.’ Due to demand, private railways will now be starting to be re-opened, these include rural lines like Stirling to Alloa, the Vale of Glamorgan line, and the Eastleigh to Romsey line in Hampshire. Re-openings are a reality of when a railways system can help the customer, it can open stations and it can open lines.

The solution isn’t the status quo; the solution, however, isn’t nationalisation.

Labour activist George Aylett: British railways should be renationalised – ” it is not ideological, it is logical.”

The private rail model has failed. Fares are substantially rising, passenger satisfaction is at a record low and public subsidies are skyrocketing.

Rail fares have risen 27% since 2010. Millions commute to work every day, many rely entirely on railways in order to make a living, however, they have seen fares increase considerably faster than wages.

It’s not just the cost that has risen for commuters, but also for taxpayers. The British taxpayer now spends approximately £5billion subsiding these firms, a figure similar to the total unemployment benefit bill.

This is not a sustainable model. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. RMT state that public ownership could cut ticket prices by up to 18% if the state decided to run the franchise as a not-for-profit service.

Opponents will say that public ownership of the railways would be disastrous.
However, these points have to be made:

1) There is no competition
2) Most nations in Europe have publicly owned railways – and their fares are significantly cheaper

When it comes to (1): the argument is that if you privatise a service it will lead to more competition, therefore there will be more choice, prices will be fall and consumers will be satisfied. However, there is no competition on the railways. GWR, for example, own the Greater Western franchise. All rail users in the South West are reliant on this link, but there is only one private firm to choose from. If the sole criterion to justify privatisation is ‘more competition’, then there is no justification for privatised railways.

When it comes to (2): Britain’s rail passengers are paying 50% more than rail users on the continent. But, critics will argue, this wouldn’t be replicated in the UK. However, when East Coast Rail was under public ownership, passenger satisfaction increased and the franchise returned £1billion back into public hands.

Now, nobody is saying that we should buy all franchises, nor is anybody saying that we should nationalise without compensation. The former is too expensive, the latter is extremely unfair. So, how would the railways be brought back into public ownership? Britain should bring each franchise back into the public sector when private contracts expire. This is what happened with East Coast Rail.

According to YouGov, 59% support public ownership of our railways, only 21% oppose. When it comes to party affiliation; 73% of Labour voters support it, 12% oppose; UKIP: 67% support, 17% oppose; LibDems: 65% support, 17% don’t; and even Conservative voters back it: 48% support, 35% oppose. Even Peter Hitchens supports nationalising the railways!

Some would say that the Tories aren’t even opposed to the policy. In fact, it is the Tories who advocate state ownership of the railways.. (Other states, admittedly, not the British state). Foreign state-owned firms run Thameslink, Gatwick Express, Grand Central, Chiltern Railways, Merseyrail, Scotrail, Greater Anglia, London Midland, DLR, Northern Rail, London Overground, Cross Country, Southern, Southeastern and South West Trains. British taxpayer’s money goes to subsiding the railways of other nations. Instead, let’s allow these profits to be reinvested in British railways and the British state.

Our railways can be better. Public ownership would cut rail fares, increase passenger satisfaction and would ensure profits would be reinvested back into Britain.

It is not ideological, it is logical.

What do you think?


Image rights: Dave souza @ Commons Wikimedia


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