Rebuild Britain's Railways
by Bob Ansell
A self-reliant Britain will depend upon a modern, well-structured and efficient public railway.
But the future looks vague and uncertain at best after the delayed publication of the Williams Rail Review - the government’s independent root and branch review of Britain’s railway. The government has wasted two years since its initial consultation period closed, and then come up short on protecting our infrastructure.
The main conclusions of the Review are mixed. There will be a rebranding of course but the main substance of the report shows that the government is not committed to the main recommendations from those consulted. For example, ASLEF, Britain’s trade union for train drivers, put forward six key recommendations, all of which would contribute to rebuilding Britain’s railway network. ASLEF called for:
• A railway that is vertically integrated and in the public sector
• A responsive attitude to investment that is informed by local knowledge and decision-making
• Clear and reasonable ticketing options for passengers
• A railway that is part of securing healthy, connected communities with economic and social opportunities for everyone
• A safe and efficient, accessible railway
• A programme of infrastructure investment laid out that will benefit the whole of the country
To most people ASLEF has put forward sensible and even modest recommendations, and the public should ask why they have not been implemented in full.
But these recomendations have been largely ignored by the The Williams Review. While it does argue for some restructuring of the management of the railways and for more control of private contracts, in reality the proposals simply want to tinker round the edges.
Despite recognising the abject failure of the privatisation carried out by John Major’s government in 1994, the Review has failed to seize the opportunity to regain full public ownership and control for our vital infrastructure.
Williams Review Weak and Vague
The Review is weak and vague on key issues. The position of the Rail and Maritime Union (RMT) is clear on these failures. It says that;
“The Government talk about ending a generation of fragmentation but then leave the same private companies in place under this arrangement to extract management fees that could be invested in building a truly integrated national rail network. The taxpayer carries all the risk while the train companies carry out bags of cash.
“If the Government were serious about recognising the impact of failed rail policy down nearly three decades, they would cut out the middleman, strip away the dead weight of the private companies and work with their staff on building a transport system fit for the future, where investment in the workforce and infrastructure comes first.”
Rebuilding Britain means putting a stop to the private sector plundering of our railways, taking profits when they can and unloading the risks and losses on to the public when things look bad.