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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Labour pledges to renationalise rail: reaction

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The Labour party has set out its plan for rail, ahead of this year’s general election, with pledges to provide a long-term strategy which outlines the role of rail in economic growth and levelling-up, and to deliver taxpayer value for money in rail.

Labour has also promised to deliver a rail-experts led Great British Railways (GBR), along with new railways legislation. However, the news that has grabbed the headlines is the party’s plan to renationalise passenger rail services within five years by bringing them into public control as their contracts expire.

As expected, the news has stirred opinion throughout the industry. Rail Minister Huw Merriman was quick to dismiss the plans as “pointless” and “unfunded”.

“They don’t have a plan to pay for the bill attached to their rail nationalisation,” he said. “Without a plan to pay for this, it means one thing: taxes will rise on hard working people.”

But while such a response is hardly unexpected from the other side of the house, a similar sentiment has been expressed in some quarters of the industry.

Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Andy Bagnall, chief executive of Rail Partners, said that nationalisation is not the way to achieve the “radical change” the industry requires.

“That’s the danger with nationalisation,” he said. “We believe that without that commercial focus, costs would creep up over time, revenue growth will be slower and the taxpayer is the one that loses out.”

But, according to Labour’s new plan, the private sector still has a role to play. Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said that her party were not “ideologues” and that it was right to use private companies where they add value.

It should be noted that Labour does not plan nationalise rail freight companies, and would allow open access operators to continue. It would also leave rolling stock companies in the private sphere.

The RailFreight Group (RFG) has welcomed this news. Director General Maggie Simpson said: “We are pleased that the Labour Party has highlighted the huge economic potential of rail freight and is committed to measures including statutory duties for freight and long-term growth targets. Our members are working to get more goods moving by rail and we strongly welcome this support.”

John Smith, chief executive officer of GB Railfreight, commented: “Rail freight helps to deliver millions of items to consumers across the UK each year, from pinot grigio to paracetamol, all the while helping to reduce road congestion and carbon emissions. We look forward to the opportunities Labour’s plans may present to our industry in the future.”

On a broader note, the Rail Industry Association (RIA) has welcomed Labour’s contribution to the discussion on UK rail’s the future.

Darren Caplan, RIA’s chief executive said: “We welcome the pledge to make rail reform a priority early in the next parliament, which would give certainty to our members about the future structure of the railway industry, and also the commitment to a long-term strategy, which RIA has been calling for in recent years.

“It is also positive that rail is recognised as essential to economic growth, integrated transport connectivity, levelling up the nations and regions of the country, and in helping to deliver Net Zero; and that there is a need to deliver value for money for the taxpayer in rail.

“We now look forward to hearing others’ contribution to the debate on the future of rail.”

However, some have warned over playing politics with the rail industry.

“Labour’s pledge highlights critical and long-overdue discussions about the future of our rail system,” said David Pitt, vice president of UK Rail at SilverRail. “However, it’s important that driving for change in the industry isn’t viewed as a political issue, but rather a necessity to enhance operational efficiencies and improve passenger experiences.”

Image credit: iStockphoto.com

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