Tory transport minister Grant Shaps has announced that the troubled Northern Rail franchise is to be renationalised. This comes as a huge embarrassment to the new Conservative government. After months of attacking Corbyn over Labour’s rail renationalisation pledge, one of the first measures Johnson’s government has had to take is...rail renationalisation!
The Northern franchise has been struggling for years. It represents all that is wrong about rail privatisation. At the time, we were told that taking British Rail out of public ownership would transform the whole service, as big business brought its mighty array of skills and ‘entrepreneurial dynamism’ into play. Well, all they brought was the dynamic ability to rip us off and pocket our money.
Northern Rail has been a sick joke of late. In 2019, only 56% of trains on its network ran on time. In the four weeks leading up to 7 December 2019, 1-in-16 trains run by Northern Rail were cancelled. Yet Arriva, the firm running Northern Rail, grabbed £763 million in public subsidies last year.
This is not a one-off: all the privately run franchises are doing it at our expense - as indeed are the rest of the parasitic firms running our public utilities.
The poor situation facing many rail users was summed up by the latest survey report from the independent watchdog, Transport Focus. This confirms the continuing dissatisfaction with the service - particularly that of Northern Rail, West Midlands trains, South Western Railway and the Trans Pennine Express. In fact, only 72% of passengers on Northern Rail felt in anyway satisfied with their journey - hardly a glowing recommendation.
Discussing this report, TSSA union general secretary Manuel Cortes stated:
“Yet again we see the truly awful situation too many rail passengers face on a daily basis. Commuters have been failed time and again by private companies who are succeeding only in making money for shareholders.”
As a result, from 1 March, Arriva will be given the boot and the service will be taken over by a new public company, Northern Rail Ltd, owned and run by something called the Operator of Last Resort (OLR).
This is not the first time the OLR has been called into service. In 2018, the OLR stepped in when Virgin could no longer be trusted to run the East Coast Main Line. Indeed, in recent years, the OLR has been ‘on standby’ as regards a number of other struggling lines.
No wonder Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, responded to the announcement by saying:
“Northern has become a signal for everything that is wrong on Britain's broken, privatised railways. The fact that the government has now been forced to take this action today will open the floodgates towards wholesale public ownership of our railways as other franchises fall like dominoes, or simply choose to cut and run in the face of the inevitable”.
Cash also commented on fears that Northern will be sorted out with large dollops of public money, before being sold off on the cheap to some new vulture who can then fleece us yet again:
“The return of Northern to the public domain, joining the East Coast Main Line, should not be seen as a short term fix and a holding operation pending another punt on another bunch of private speculators. This has to be a permanent move followed up with the investment and planning needed to deliver the rail services that passengers deserve after years of privatised chaos.”
Nationalise the lot!
We should be clear on what this means. We say: renationalise the whole rail and transport system - immediately and without compensation! The railways should be publicly-owned, run under workers’ control and management, as part of a socialist transport plan.
Following this latest renationalisation announcement, left Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey stated that:
“Members have a right to know exactly where candidates stand. I want to be clear that I am fully committed to the pledges in our manifesto last year for public ownership of energy, water, rail and mail.”
This must be widened out to cover all the major monopolies, including the finance and banking giants. These big businesses have all ripped us off for far too long. The Northern Rail scandal exposes not only the rottenness of privatisation, but the rottenness of the whole capitalist system.