Saturday, 19 January 2013

RMT step up campaign for renationalisation of the railways

Support for bringing the railways back into public ownership is as strong as it’s ever been. The case to bring railways back in-house is something the RMT union and others have been demanding for years. The campaign is building momentum all the time. TUSC is committed to bringing the railways back in to public ownership but disgracefully the Labour party still will not commit to pledging to bring the rail back in house. The cost of running the railway has increased since privatisation when Tory propaganda said costs would fall. Fares have risen 50% in ten years, and are up to ten times higher than in other parts of Europe. A rail season ticket is a major item of expenditure. Freight charges have played a part in discouraging more freight on rail. A senior accounting lecturer at the University of Essex, John Stittle, offers the following view: "The state is putting an awful lot in. If British Rail had the same funds now we would have a gold-plated state railway." Clearly some increase in costs resulted from more services being run and catch-up expenditure on infrastructure which was neglected. Even so, privatisation has seen virtually no increase in electrification which benefits reliability and the environment. Costs of privatisation Costs, which the authors say would be cut out by public ownership, include Network Rail debt interest which would be less expensive to the government, fragmentation costs, profits for contractors at various levels, and rewards for investors. Removing these costs could lead to an 18% reduction across all fares, rather than the 6% increase introduced this month. It is estimated that 5% of Train Operating Companies' costs are caused by their interface with Network Rail, and that between 300 and 500 rail workers are engaged in delay attribution (identifying reasons for delays). The industry guide to delay attribution runs to 90 pages. When maintenance work was brought back in-house by Network Rail, the savings were £264 million a year. Renewals and enhancements to infrastructure are still outsourced with profits estimated at £200 million a year. The small numbers of companies which own trains and lease them to the Train Operating Companies are hugely profitable, one estimate is that profits before tax and interest are 41% of income. But the case against privatisation is not solely based on avoidable costs. There is effectively no competition in the privatised railway. There is hardly ever a real choice because one franchise has an effective monopoly. Overcrowding is now a major concern for travellers with implications for safety. The rush hour becomes crush hour and the festive season a battle to find a seat. Ticket purchasing can be very complex and the lack of cooperation between service providers means passengers can be stranded. There is increasing pressure from firms to cut ticket office and station staffs - more potential travellers is discouraged and turn to the car. The promised electrification between Manchester and Liverpool will use quarter-century old trains; such is the lack of a viable UKbased train building capacity. Section six of Rebuilding Rail is a discussion on the objections which supporters of privatisation make to proposals to remove the profit motive and franchise system. These include objections that privatisation means innovation, investment and efficiency, the cost of buying assets back, and the restrictions imposed by European Union law on public ownership. While these issues can't be ignored, the main problem to be solved is to develop a movement with the political will to overcome these and other obstacles in the way of returning the rail industry to public ownership, and to introducing for the first time measures to ensure democratic control. In the part of Rebuilding Rail dealing with "The Solution", the authors list many aims for the rail industry with which socialists would agree and have been campaigning for. They point out that "the purpose of the railway system is primarily to provide a public service not private profit". Public ownership is therefore the solution - including train operating, infrastructure, rolling stock, etc. There needs to be a structure to provide integration, expanding capacity, more freight on rail and rail industry manufacturing. Some other points have not kept pace with reality, eg "devolution to regions and counties" at a time when county councils are withdrawing from doing anything themselves and becoming commissioning bodies handing contracts to private firms. Interesting figures are given relating to train and rail manufacturing and comparisons of the UK with other European countries, Japan and New Zealand, in terms of public/private ownership, and the rail share of the freight market. The authors show that "a unified public sector train operator" along with direct public ownership of Network Rail, control of buying and building trains and increased use of freight on rail are necessary and beneficial. Even so it is clear that every problem would not be solved overnight. The skills shortage in building trains, long-term plans for training enough drivers and guards, improving communications systems would need planning and investment over a period. But bringing the rail industry into democratic public ownership is not in the end a legal or technical issue, the impression given by some of the arguments in this report. The real problem is political will. Rail unions, passengers and the wider working class all support renationalisation. We need to build a mass workers' party that, unlike the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour, will carry out this measure. Using electric trains is far more efficient and potentially far better for the environment. Britain's first electric line was the City and South London railway in 1890, London's first deep tube, now part of London Underground's Northern Line. Most of the Southern Railway network was electrified between 1923 and 1939. Yet today there are still large parts of the railway yet to be made electric. A socialist plan for the rails would include electrifying the remaining lines. Of course, this needs to be linked to a socialist plan for renationalised utilities that would replace polluting energy such as coal and gas with renewable sources. Train Operating Companies (TOCs) 'predict' their revenue - if a TOC takes less than 98% of that forecast, it gets bailed out by the taxpayer for 50% or 80% (depending on the size of the shortfall) of the missing takings. In October, it was announced that the annual 'revenue support' totalled £451 million, a big chunk of the railways' annual £4 billion government subsidy (double the subsidy for British Rail). Socialist nationalisation British Rail wasn't perfect - though far better than the mess that exists today. When it was first formed, in 1948, many of the same bosses stayed in place. Regions competed with each other. The Socialist Party calls for the railways to be renationalised under democratic working class control and management, using the experience and expertise of rail workers and passengers, to run trains as a public service and not a big business cash cow. With extracts from this fantastic article with an interview with RMT general secretary Bob Crow on rail renationalisation

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