Reclaim our railways!

by Daphne Liddle

RAIL UNIONS and passenger groups are coming together in a renewed campaign to renationalise Britain’s railways after the announcement of fare rises of over six per cent. Meanwhile the franchise to run the West Coast Mainline has been taken from Virgin and awarded to FirstGroup — with hundreds of rail job losses threatened.

Virgin Rail lost its bid to continue running West Coast Mainline to FirstGroup, on Wednesday. But First Group, which is Britain’s largest rail operator, has presented a business plan that the RMT rail union describes as unrealistic.

FirstGroup is promising a lot more seating and 11 new 125mph six-car electric trains on the Birmingham-Glasgow route and to provide more direct services between destinations. It will take over the franchise from 9th December and it will run until 2026.

RMT said that industry reports suggest that FirstGroup have based their bid on the same kind of over-geared financial projections that led to the collapse of the GNER and National Express contracts on the East Coast — forcing the Government to renationalise the service.

RMT negotiators have also been informed by the fleet maintenance company, Alstom, that the winning West Coast InterCity bid is likely to include a wholesale reconfiguration of the rolling stock with shops and catering removed to lever in more seating capacity, putting up to 800 train crew jobs on the block.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Whoever wins the West Coast route this week, and all the signs point to FirstGroup, they should be left in no doubt that RMT will mount a massive industrial, political and public campaign to stop any attacks on our members jobs and the services that they provide to the travelling public.

We are already preparing a ballot for industrial action in light of the threatened job cuts.”

And rail unions and passenger groups staged protests at stations throughout England on Tuesday in a national Day of Action in protest at proposed fare rises of 6.2 per cent.

The rises are linked to the rate of inflation, which was 3.2 per cent in July. English fares will rise by inflation plus 3.2 per cent while those in Scotland will rise by inflation plus one per cent. Wales has yet to set a figure.

Some passengers in England could see fares rising by more than the average, as train operating companies (TOCs) are allowed to increase them by up to 11 per cent, as long as they cut ticket prices elsewhere. At the same time, the government's Rail Command Paper has set out proposals for TOCs to shed thousands of station staff, guards and catering staff to slash costs.

The Government is asking TOCs and Network Rail to implement cost-cutting proposals in Sir Roy McNulty's Rail Value for Money Study that could put up to 20,000 jobs at risk in the rail industry.

In its report Rebuilding Rail, Transport for Quality of Life shows that more than £1 billion per year is now incurred in extra costs as a result of the fragmentation, transaction costs, leakages through profits and dividend payments and other on-costs resulting from rail privatisation.

Action for Rail, Bring Back British Rail, the Campaign for Better Transport and Climate Rush took part in the national Day of Action, which included demonstrations at Waterloo Station in London and leafleting and protests at over 40 stations around the country.

TUC deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “These fare rises will add even more pressure to passengers already feeling a massive squeeze on their incomes.”

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “Rail workers and the travelling public are united in this campaign. Commuters, environmentalists, business people, holidaymakers — even motorists! — all have a vested interest in an affordable, accessible and reliable rail service.”

Bob Crow said: “Passengers will be rightly angry when they find out the full extent of the inflation-busting fare increases imposed on them by government diktat.

The idea that this extra money will be invested in the railways is a sick joke; it will simply be trousered by the greedy train operators, same as it always has been since privatisation.

“The case for renationalising our railways, and throwing the extortionists and rip-off merchants off the tracks, is now overwhelming.”

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Justine Greening's cynical predecessor Philip Hammond famously said that rail is now a rich man's toy. She seems determined to turn that quote into firm reality during her time at the DfT.”

Bring Back British Rail spokesperson Ellie Harrison said: “It's obvious that people are angry and frustrated with the railway system in this country since it was dismantled and sold off in the 1990s, and these extortionate train fare rises will only make this situation worse.”