On 8 March, the Tories published “Reforming our Railways: Putting the Customer First”, a “command paper” with recommendations based on Sir Roy McNulty’s 2011 review and report into the railway industry.
It stated that the railway “remains unacceptably inefficient.”
As rail industry analyst and commentator Christian Wolmar says: “Given that Britain has experimented with the most radical change in structure of the railways of any country in Europe [where costs have gone down], is it not the case that [structure] … is the root of the problem?”
Attending a dinner for members of the Freight Transport Association in April 1993 Tory Prime Minister John Major (speaking at the start of British Rail privatisation) said “It is common sense that the private sector will run the railways more efficiently”. In 2012 the Tory command paper states that the railway “remains unacceptably inefficient.”
But after 19 years the railways are still “inefficient” and they now get five times more subsidy than British Rail! Compelling evidence, I’d say, that this privatisation has failed and sufficient reason to believe that any serious Government program for rail reform should pay close attention to the structure that The Railways Act 1993 foisted upon us.
If only. The command paper says that “the case for a further round of major structural change … has not been made.” This is quite true, but only because that case was never examined. McNulty (the paper takes its lead from his report) didn’t consider that scenario seeing his brief as “…essentially how to reduce the industry’s costs and improve value for money … without sweeping away most of the present structure.” So the government has gone for short term savings at the expense of rail workers and users; think ticket office closures, redundancies, higher ticket prices and unstaffed stations, rather than taking a longer term view that would have inevitably revealed the high structural costs of maintaining the fragmented set up we have at the moment.
There was no mention of renationalising the railway to eradicate fragmentation.
In fact the government intends to go in the opposite direction through regionalisation of Network Rail. The closest that Transport Secretary Justine Greening came to admitting this problem was while introducing the paper she said “For reform to really be effective there needs to be closer collaboration between the infrastructure managers, in other words Network Rail, and those who provide passenger services, generally the Train Operating Companies.”
Railworkers are clear that “Reforming our Railways” is a cuts plan for the industry which, like the wider cuts in society preserves, and improves the opportunity for the Tories’ business friends to make money at the expense of the rest of society.
We reject the command paper and are determined that austerity on the railways won’t be had at our or users’ expense.