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Privatising the railways was a disaster. It's time to renationalise


  Passengers are paying a fortune to travel in overcrowded trains, so Labour, like the Greens, should seize the initiative

  作者:Caroline Lucas 

  Thursday 22 August 2013

'The solution the Green party is proposing is for our railways to be brought back into public hands, with passengers having a greater say in the development of the system.' Photograph: Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

  "No direction", "dithering", "rudderless". Ed Miliband isn't the first opposition leader to hear this kind of language as an election looms, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that his MPs are queuing up to offer him friendly encouragement to fill the policy vacuum.


  Clearly, it's not easy being in opposition, knowing that every policy announcement can and will be used against you by the government and a hostile media. But that's why politics requires courage.


  Labour now has some fantastic opportunities to get behind progressive policies that would resonate with its traditional support and with voters. One in particular is about to pull into the station. With the dreadful news last week that rail fares will go up by an average of 4.1% next year (and sincere sympathies to you if you're one of the many passengers who will be hit much harder than that), it's surely time for Labour to accept that privatisation of the railways was a disastrous failure that it should have reversed when it had the chance.


  With the prime minister's former speechwriter, Ian Birrell, leaping to the defence of privatised services and talking about record levels of passenger satisfaction, surely now is the time for Miliband's team to sign up to a policy that would genuinely distinguish him from the coalition. The shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, sounds as if she wants to head in that direction. She recently criticised the government's determination to re-privatise the East Coast service, calling it "bizarre and dogmatic". East Coast, she noted, makes one of the highest payments to the public purse, receives the least subsidy and is the only route on which all profits are reinvested in services. So why doesn't Labour go the whole way?


  The Rebuilding Rail report, published last year by Transport for Quality of Life, offers a superb analysis of the mess Britain's railways are in. It finds that the private sector has not delivered the innovation and investment that were once promised, that the costs of back-room staff have massively increased, and that the costs of train travel rose by 17% between 1997 and 2010 (while the costs of travelling by car fell). It conservatively estimates that £1.2bn is being lost each year as a result of fragmentation and privatisation. The irony is that some of the biggest profiters are the state-owned rail companies of our neighbours: Deutsche Bahn, for example, owns three UK franchises.


  Birrell seeks to paint opponents of privatisation as dewy-eyed nostalgists. But the modern, efficient, clean, affordable services enjoyed in other parts of Europe offer a much better blueprint than our own past. The solution the Green party is proposing is for our railways to be brought back into public hands, with passengers having a greater say in the development of the system. The government would take back individual franchises when they expire, or when companies fail to meet their conditions. The enormous savings generated could and should then be reinvested in rail infrastructure, and to reduce the soaring cost of fares.


  My private member's bill sets out the process to make this happen, and is due to have its second reading in October. I've written to Maria Eagle asking if Labour will get behind it. As a policy for Labour, it's unlikely to play well in the Mail and the Telegraph. But I suspect many of their readers – particularly those reading their papers while jammed up against a fellow commuter on an overcrowded, overpriced train – might be more receptive. And certainly there are many rank and file Labour MPs, many of whom are already backing the bill, who are desperate to see their leader prove himself as the conviction politician he says he is.


  22 August 2013 5:34pm
  Recommend 1293
  Agreed, along with Gas and Electricity.


  Zakida RandomAccountant
  22 August 2013 5:38pm
  Recommend 319
  And money creation


  RandomAccountant Zakida
  22 August 2013 5:42pm
  Recommend 54
  State money already is.
  Whether it should guarantee bank money or not is another question.


  madasballoons RandomAccountant
  22 August 2013 5:48pm
  Recommend 402
  And water of course.


  22 August 2013 5:35pm
  Recommend 49
  So brave.


  percentages thefivefingerman
  22 August 2013 5:50pm
  Recommend 899
  Privatising the railways was a disaster. It's time to renationalise
  It seems Caroline Lucas & the Greens are now the true party of the Left since Ed Milliband is busy trying to be a true Tory. Well done.


  jonniestewpot thefivefingerman
  22 August 2013 5:57pm
  Recommend 65
  So brave.
  Well it's a start.


  dsmith9 thefivefingerman
  22 August 2013 6:05pm
  Recommend 7
  Not really. The railways have and always will be a loss making enterprise. The railways lost money even in the glory days. Probably why Thatcher never privatized them (they forever need subsidy).
  One worrying point - how will competition effect the railways? Can a re-nationalized BR compete with the German Deutsche Bahn on British rails?


  RandomAccountant dsmith9
  22 August 2013 6:14pm
  Recommend 88
  Why does it need to compete ?


  ninfan thefivefingerman
  22 August 2013 6:19pm
  Recommend 20
  Agreed - I'm hoping that Caroline will continue the process towards direct action, perhaps the image of her standing in front of a train would be the spur towards the rest of the left to do the same?


  SWRural2 dsmith9
  22 August 2013 6:27pm
  Recommend 14
  You must be very young -which do you call the glory days?


  GeoffTr ninfan
  22 August 2013 7:02pm
  Recommend 8
  Let's hope the train doesn't stop!


  thunderstorm percentages
  22 August 2013 7:04pm
  Recommend 25
  green has been the new red for a long time.
  if their rail strategy is as effective as their energy strategy, commuters will be pushing the trains.
  think green, think stone age.


  Cynical007 dsmith9
  22 August 2013 7:23pm
  Recommend 88
  Can a re-nationalized BR compete with the German Deutsche Bahn on British rails?
  Since the privateers currently get three times the public subsidy that British rail got (not to mention the massive fare increases since privatisation) I think running the railways as a public service could work quite well.
  After all, the example you give of an effective competitor, Deutsche Bahn, is owned by the German government.


  Smollett dsmith9
  22 August 2013 7:48pm
  Recommend 95
  BR was the most efficient railway in Europe with the highest proportion of high speed routes. All its R&D and manufacturing was done in-house and/or UK-based. All that's been lost as well.

  铁路私有化, initiative, disaster, Caroline, solution


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