IT IS now an annual ritual. Forthcoming rail fare increases are announced by the Rail Delivery Group at the end of November, to widespread condemnation by passengers (or “customers” in the privatised industry’s business-speak).
The fares then come into effect at the beginning of the following January, no notice whatsoever having been taken of said condemnation. Then cue some apologist for the rail profiteers, such as Robert Nisbet, to pop up on our television screens and reassure us that everyone’s money is helping to create a top-class modern industry.
Today, RDG regional director Mr Nisbet appeared in our living rooms again, spinning the usual sunshine stories. The industry has been stabilised, lessons have been learnt and — this was a particularly imaginative spin — the extra money paid by passengers means that taxpayers’ pounds can now be concentrated on providing the extra investment needed in the railway network.
Meanwhile, rail users will be digging even deeper into their pockets and purses to pay the highest fares in Europe for far too many late and overcrowded train journeys.
No wonder there have been protests at dozens of stations over the past few days, many of them led by angry commuters and railway staff.
They and millions of other people know full well that Britain’s railway industry is an expensive shambles. Most of them also have a pretty good idea why.
In fact, numerous opinion polls confirm that three-quarters of the public hold privatisation chiefly responsible for the industry’s palpable failings.
The same people should have nothing but contempt for the efforts of Tory government ministers and right-wing pundits to blame the latest fare increases on rail workers’ wages and the state of the industry on Network Rail, a public-sector body which — for all its shortcomings — at least tries to bring some order to the chaos.
What else but chaos could have been expected on a rail network operated by — at the last count — 34 different companies, most of them in the private sector with their own company directors and shareholders to support?
The rail unions, Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald and campaigning groups such as We Own It were right today to focus on the need to take the railway industry back into public ownership.
McDonald was also correct to emphasise that this need not mean a return to the old British Rail model. Progressive nationalisation should bring much higher levels of state investment — where necessary issuing central bank bonds of the type expressly forbidden by EU treaty — along with real participation by the workforce, passengers, freight users and local communities in consultation, monitoring and policy-making.
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