The recent lambasting of private rail company SouthWest Trains by the populist left-wing revolutionary rag, the Daily Mail, for exploiting VJ veterans by ramping up the fares during the VJ day commemorations , highlights more than ever the fact that Britain needs a modern, safe, cheap and efficient railway.
The way to get that is not to have a jigsaw puzzle in every railway station of different private companies, particularly when we have to subsidize them at a rate five times greater in real terms compared to when they were nationalized . What is the logic of giving privateers like the private rail companies this massive increase in subsidy?
Not only is Jeremy Corbyn promising to bring the railways back into public ownership, but his ‘flip-flopper’ rival for the leadership, Andy Burnham, has promised the same. Cynical appropriations of the public mood by the latter in this way, is of course, not new among the Labour Party establishment. In the New Labour manifesto of 1997, for example, Tony Blair promised that the railways would be put into public ownership only to do a massive u turn after becoming elected .
Nationalization of the railways was a major platform (pun not intended) upon which he gained power, thus reinforcing the ‘left-wing policies are electoral suicide myth’ meme propagated by his critics.
So Blair was elected in 1997 on a left-wing ticket of nationalization of the kind the right-wing warmonger is criticising Jeremy Corbyn for now. In other words, for Blair, nationalization was regarded as being electable. But Corbyn who is proposing the same is regarded by the New Labour hierarchy as being unelectable despite the fact that a majority of British people of all political persuasions believe that the railways should be in public hands .
It’s worth mentioning that although the rail stock and the running of the rail system has been privatized, much of the infrastructure including the rails upon which the trains run, have not. This begs the question: Why should we be allowing people to print money by obtaining franchises to run on publicly owned track that we’ve paid for?
Although the rail companies are getting massive subsidies, are the trains five times less overcrowded than on the old British Rail? There are now less train carriages than there were under British Rail and the platforms are shorter despite the fact that capacity throughout the network is increasing exponentially. This is reflected in public opinion polls that conclude a high dissatisfaction with the railways since they became privatized .
Clearly then, the rail companies are not five times as sensitive to public needs. Are they cheaper in real terms? Again, that’s a negative: Since privatization, rail fares have trebled while earnings have remained largely stagnant . We are paying three times more to stand in overcrowded trains compared with our counterparts in Germany and France .
It’s also.difficult to sustain the argument that a privatized system is likely to be safer given the ‘passing the buck,’ culture that the patchwork quilt and largely unaccountable private railway system implies.
At, present the railways are too expensive and fragmented and don’t serve the public interest, despite the fact that we, the British people, are paying exorbitantly for it in order to boost the profits of the fat cats who run it. Why should profits be privatized and losses nationalized in this way?
It makes no economic and rational sense unless, of course, you happen to be somebody like Richard Branson whose concept of market forces is very different from yours or mine. For too long passengers have been taken for a ride on this issue. It’s encouraging that Corbyn has put the nationalization of the railways back on the political agenda.