Re-nationalise our railways!

They do it with mirrors - the Tardis. Photo: Timothy Wells via
They do it with mirrors - the Tardis. Photo: Timothy Wells via
The Green Party was demonstrating yesterday against above-inflation price-hikes imposed by fat-cat rail companies. Green transport spokesman Rupert Read joined the demos ... and somehow ended his day in the Tardis.
We already have a nationalised rail system - only it's owned by other countries. You couldn't make it up ...

My day started at 6 am, while it was of course still dark.

Dressed smart for the cameras, I cycled off to Norwich station for a series of interviews - with BBC Radio Norfolk about why the railways should be renationalised, the local paper, ITV 'Anglia', BBC 'Look East'.

No less important, I spoke to dozens of passengers to get the mood of what they were thinking. And here is something unusual. While we were giving out leaflets directly outside the doors to the station, every single person took a leaflet.

Any Ecologist reader who has any experience giving out leaflets will know how rare that is. Why such strong support? For a start, polls have long shown that an overwhelming majority of the British public wants the railways back in public ownership - yet the only Party committed to railway nationalisation is the Greens.

These fare rises will cause real hardship

And the rail fare hikes that came in yesterday - grossly outstripping the average rise in wages - only add to the clamour for change. These price rises militate against wider rail use, which would of course bring environmental benefits by reducing road traffic and pollution.

And they will cause real hardship: I spoke outside the station with a bloke who confided in me that he was having to consider giving up his job or moving house - every year his bill for his trip to and from work each day was eating away a larger and larger chunk of his salary.

George Osborne claimed headlines recently by shaving a little off the monstrous rise that had been expected. But many travellers will still find themselves paying more overall under the infamous 'flex' system which allows profit-hungry train companies to increase some fares if they reduce others.

East Coast - an example to follow

The privately owned train operating companies on our fragmented railway system charge, of course, some of the highest fares in Europe.

However ... on East Coast, the only rail company now in public hands, the unregulated fares that they control are only going up by average 0.8% - in other words a real terms cut.

East Coast was also able to announce a freeze on the cost of more than half of its journeys to and from London. This shows in clear and simple terms how a publicly-owned rail system would be better news for taxpayers.

Green Party policy on this whole matter is very simple: it is for the whole railway system to revert to public ownership. A joined-up railway network would be an essential component of a truly integrated transport system working for the common good instead of primarily for the benefit of shareholders, with passengers and taxpayers footing the bill.

We already have a nationalised rail system - only it's owned by other countries. You couldn't make it up ...

Pie in the sky?

You might think that a nationalised rail system is pie in the sky. But there is a very real sense in which we already have one. A number of the private railway companies in Britain are wholly or partly owned by companies which are in turn owned by foreign governments!

For example, the 'British' company Arriva is owned by Deutsche Bahn, which is in turn owned by the German government. The same goes for Chiltern Railways. That means profit from railway companies in the UK - boosted by taxpayer subsidies - is skimmed off to be invested in trains and tracks in other countries.

So in that sense we already have a nationalised rail system - only it's owned by other countries. You couldn't make it up ...

But what about the Tardis!?

Well, after I eventually left the station I spent most of the day on social media, fielding calls and emails, and generally working overtime to follow up on the successful action we had taken.

We had ten demos in Eastern England alone, and this got us onto every single BBC local radio station in the Region, and several commercial stations), plus heavy involvement in the big London protest at King's Cross.

One call was from the Beeb inviting me for a studio interview. And this is the bit where Dr. Who fans could suddenly get insanely jealous. While I was waiting to be ushered into the studio, I couldn't help notice that the Tardis was parked right there in the waiting area! Apparently it lives there now.

They do it with mirrors

Naturally, I went inside - and discovered that the reason it looks bigger on the inside than on the outside is very old-fashioned: they do it with mirrors. A bit like George Osborne's macro-economics in reverse ... ?

Of course I started hitting the sound-effects buttons - the first one I tried, obviously, was 'Dematerialise!' Very exciting ... Well, we didn't actually go anywhere, but ... just the sound of it!!

As I came out I noticed a young kid staring longingly in through the glass into the BBC studios, making me feel both privileged and a bit guilty. I've heard of politicians getting perks, but this was definitely my best yet - and probably ever.

Back to the future?

The more cynical amongst you might say that we Greens are trying to travel in time - back to the British Rail of old, with its endless delays, underinvestment, poor labour relations, and surprisingly good cake.

If you're too young to remember that, think Life on Mars ... on the railways.

But the truth is that we want to time travel the other way - to a future of high investment in railway infrastructure and lower fares - all entirely feasible once the grotesque, inefficient, money grabbing privatatised rail companies are sent packing.

To this end the stellar Green MP Caroline Lucas has a Pivate Members Bill coming up for debate in the House of Commons to achieve full renationalisation of the trains - and it's listed for its second reading on February 28th. If you support the idea, write to your MP and ask them to back Caroline's bill!

By taking back individual franchises when they expire, or when companies fail to meet their conditions, the Government could save over £1 billion a year, every year.

So over a decade, we would achieve the renationalisation of the railways. And the £1 billion a year we are paying them could be ours to reinvest in services and reduce fares.


Rupert Read is Green Party Transport Spokesperson, and lead MEP-candidate for the East of England at this year's European Elections. Website: Twitter: @GreenRupertRead (political) or @RupertRead (personal).


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