LABOUR would start a rolling programme of bringing private sector rail franchises back into public hands, according to a leaked version of the party's general election manifesto which has been circulating today.
Assuming that the leak is accurate, if Labour gained power next month it would gradually renationalise passenger operations by simply not renewing franchises when they expire. The process would take a long time to complete, because the recently renewed c2c contract is due to run until November 2029, while Greater Anglia and Northern are both set to continue until 2025.
Other measures would include a fares freeze, universal WiFi and an end to driver-only operation.
The document continues: “A publicly owned railway system can be the backbone of our plans for integrated transport. It will be built on the platform of Network Rail, already in public ownership, and consider establishing a new public rolling stock company.”
The party is also undertaking to complete HS2 and boost regional economies by investing in related transport schemes, such as ‘Crossrail of the North‘.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnel said the leak was ‘disappointing,’ and that the document has yet to be signed off by 80 or so Labour figures. He added: “Every policy will have a costing and a funding source identified."
The industry has been considering the implications.
Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer said: “Together our industry is investing, competing and innovating to improve as one team. Our promise is to deliver 6,400 extra services a day and 5,500 new carriages by 2021, part of a £50 billion-plus upgrade plan to give better journeys for passengers and make local economies stronger and fairer, now and for the future.
“These improvements are underwritten by a £2 billion turnaround in the railway’s finances as our railway has become one of the safest and fastest growing in Europe since franchising was introduced.”
Some industry observers remain uncertain. Dr John Disney, who is a transport researcher at Nottingham Business School, said: “Previous Labour administrations looked at renationalising the railways and decided that it was neither practical, affordable or desirable. Directly Operated Railways have indeed taken on franchises when the private sector has defaulted and this option should remain as a last resort. However DOR has not invested in its operations and has merely been a holding company pending appointment of a new franchise.
“While some franchises have underperformed others have received high customer satisfaction scores and have good levels of punctuality, others have inevitably underperformed. This is in line with all sectors of business. It is disappointing that many rail franchises have ended up in the hands of other state operators and it would be interesting to see what effect a policy of requiring all franchisees to be dominantly privately owned would have.
“As regards freezing rail fares does this also mean that all rail employee salaries will be frozen? It would be better to regulate all fares with capped increases each year in line with inflation. At present, occasional peak time travellers are heavily subsidising commuters with season tickets.”
Meanwhile, the RMT has been campaigning for a ‘maximum vote¹ in support of Labour.
Speaking before today's leak, the union's general secretary Mick Cash said: “Jeremy Corbyn is the genuine article who has a vision of Britain based on hope not fear that delivers for working people. He has pledged to put transport, and the renationalisation of our railways, right at the top of the agenda. That’s a policy that is backed by 70 per cent of the British people and stands in stark contrast to the privatised racketeering on our tracks under the Tories.”
Labour manifesto includes slow fade-out for franchises
11th May 2017