Forget nationalisation; the railway needs full privatisation


It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that the railways should be nationalised. Surprisingly, for somebody who has never even worked in the transport industry, let alone the railways, Jeremy Corbyn believes that he has a wealth of knowledge and a policy that will make railways cheaper, more efficient and reliable.

When will I have to stop reminding people that the railways are in fact already nationalised? The infrastructure, track, stations etc. are all owned by the government and some are even managed by the government’s nationalised railway company, Network Rail. The terms of the franchises that the Train Operating Companies operate are set out by the government. The rolling stock that runs up and down the lines is procured by the government. Around 40% of rail fares including season tickets, anytime and off peak tickets are regulated and so the government is in control of how much they cost.

The government is also responsible for all capital spending on the railway, as well as the maintenance of the track, and all signalling related to the day to day operation of trains is operated by Network Rail. Perhaps next time you hear that there are delays due to signalling problems don’t blame the train operating company; blame our state-run railway.

If the railway network is to continue to grow, it needs an injection of creativity and fresh ideas. It is a system that is operating at full capacity on a day-to-day basis on top of, in many parts, 150 year old infrastructure. It was designed to operate in an age where travel and freight patterns were completely different to what they are today.

The UK railway network can only modernise if the way it is planned and operated is in tune with what the current market wants and needs. I do not believe that further government intervention into this system will lead to a railway that is going to be fit for purpose into the future. If the market does not control how the railways are shaped then we will end up with a railway that serves only the collective demands of the railway unions and niche whims of single issue politicians. In a government run railway the customer, i.e. the passenger, always comes second to the demands of local politicians and unions.

The only privatised part of the railways is the day to day operation of the trains and even this is on a short term franchise agreement with the government. The policy of nationalising the railways is probably the most achievable aspiration for the Left as it wouldn’t be far different from the system that already exists. Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto of union power and collective bargaining would only lead to one thing on the railway network – Southern Rail style strikes spreading nationwide. The only solution to the railways future is the market, not more short term restrictive government operation.

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