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Save UK Rail

The North East has a lrail trackong and proud connection to the railways. In 1825, George Stephenson’s engine – locomotion, became the world’s first steam locomotive to carry passengers, and the public railway was born. In the years following thousands of miles of rail track were laid connecting every part of the UK, as the industrial revolution became driven by steam.

The railways today remain an essential part of our national infrastructure and their success or failure inevitably has an impact on the strength of our economy. However, too many people have been priced out of rail, and those with no option but to commute by rail face excessive year on year fare rises, overcrowding and little sign of improvement despite billions of pounds in subsidies provided to the train operators. According to the report Rebuilding Rail, the cost of a privatised railway has been £1.2 billion a year more, than had it remained in public ownership. 

The Northern Rail franchises (North Rail and Transpennine Express), serving a population of around 15 million people, are the latest to be put up for tender under the flawed franchise process. However, prior to the bids, the Government conducted a consultation on how the service should be run. They set out various expectations, including the introduction of Driver Only Operation, whereby there will be no guards or conductors, undermining rail safety, “more modern ticket retailing”, a coded message for ticket office closure and staff redundancies, and an increase to fares, to help pay for better services, despite Government plans to remove existing provisions.

I have previously accused the Conservative Government of taking an ideological approach to railways as they reject any suggestion to return this vital service back into public ownership. However, recent research shows that UK rail services are under state-ownership, they just happen to be the French, German and Dutch states.

Following the decision to award the Scotrail franchise to Dutch state-owned firm Abellio, research has shown that 20 of the UK’s 27 private rail services are owned by foreign state-owned or backed railways. The UK suffers from some of the highest rail prices in Europe, with profits taken out of our railways subsidising lower fares and better services for European commuters.

It is time for Parliament to act, and we require an urgent inquiry into our railways and the dominance of foreign state owned companies providing these services. The Labour Party have promised to take action calling for a UK state owned rail company allowing them to bid for rail franchises. Currently, Directly Operated Railways, the UK publicly owned company which took over the East Coast Mainline when National Express abandoned their contract, have been banned from bidding for the franchise as the Government seeking to privatise the line. However, failed operators, who let the public down and failed to honour their contact are not excluded from the process.

My preferred option would be to return our rail network into public ownership as the franchises expire.  I believe Directly Operated Railways can deliver a better service and value for the taxpayer as they have shown on the East Coast Mainline.

As with health, and energy, the railways are too important to fail due to the catastrophic effect failure would have on the public and our economy. No matter how much or how often private companies fail in any of these sectors, the Government will always bail them out, as we have seen twice on the East Coast Mainline. This is an example of the Government privatising the profits, and nationalising the risk.

As the home of the railways, I want a government who will strengthen services in the north not undermine them. The franchise process fails the nation, but the Government’s rail strategy fails our region.  The importance of the railways as a driver for national growth is such that David Cameron is willing to commit at least £50 billion to High Speed Rail. However, the North East is not included, with high the speed line ending at Leeds. In fact, a consultation document by HS2 and Network Rail suggests by 2033 journey times from Durham to London would be just 11 minutes faster; we are likely to lose direct services to London, and we can expect slower times to major Scottish cities, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow as direct trains are replaced with stopping services.

On this basis, I cannot support HS2, which will be a waste of taxpayers money, fail to improve rail services in the North East, and are likely to contribute to exacerbating the economic imbalance between the North and the South.

The priorities should be to improve our connectivity to major lines and rail services, and we continue to work towards a new rail stop at Horden, Seaview. I would like the Government to get behind these plans, which are a tiny fraction of the cost of HS2, but would see our communities connected to neighbouring cities, and the UK rail network, helping us to create new economic activity and opportunities for our former mining communities.

We need a national plan for rail to make it accessible and affordable to everyone. A service which is run in the public interest, and does not subsidise commuters in Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin. We need a rail service which supports efforts to rebalance the UK economy and does not exacerbate the economic divide.

One Comment

  1. Robert says:

    Then what we need is a labour party does anyone know of a slightly left of center party, because this Progress party is not one.

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