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‘Build something better out of the ashes of privatised rail,’ demand passengers

PASSENGERS are demanding the government “builds something better out of the ashes of privatised rail” through renationalisation rather than handing bosses a wasteful bailout extension.

Nearly 18,000 emails were sent to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today to demand that the railways be brought back into public ownership. 

It marked the launch of the Take Back Our Trains campaign, co-ordinated by groups including the Association of British Commuters (ABC), Bring Back British Rail and We Own It, in response to news that rail bailouts have cost at least £3.5 billion during the coronavirus crisis so far. 

Costing £900 million per month, the bailout was intended to be a temporary solution — but train companies are now demanding a 12- to 18-month extension.

Campaigners say it would lock passengers into an expensive and dysfunctional system, as experts warn that nearly all rail franchises would collapse on even 80 per cent of the passenger numbers they had before.

The campaign argues that public ownership is the only feasible alternative and says the government already has enough backup operators to take over every franchise in the country.

ABC co-founder Emily Yates said: “The dysfunctional system of privatised rail has been failing passengers for years, yet all promises of reform have come to nothing. 

“The need to start building an integrated, efficient and accountable railway was urgent even before the [Covid-19] pandemic. 

“Public ownership is now the only way to succeed, with the public health and economic challenges we’re facing.”

The government is expected to decide by the end of June whether to renationalise or extend the bailout. 

The public overwhelmingly supports public ownership of the railways, with an opinion poll by the Legatum Institute in 2018 putting support at 76 per cent.

Bring Back British Rail founder Ellie Harrison said: “Privatised rail has never worked. ‘Natural monopolies’ like our railways need to be centrally co-ordinated. 

“Now the coronavirus crisis has laid bare this simple truth. Public transport is an essential public service to get our key workers to their jobs, and it cannot be run for profit while ‘social-distancing’ measures remain in place.”

We Own It campaigns officer Ellen Lees said: “Rail privatisation was imploding long before coronavirus hit, with private rail companies collapsing left, right and centre. 

“The government can’t keep funnelling billions into a broken system which only benefits shareholders — so why not take the opportunity to build something better out of the ashes of privatised rail?

“Passengers, workers and the public all want public ownership — to keep us safe, to save money, and to build a public transport network fit for a greener post-Covid future.”

The campaign’s launch came before Mr Shapps’s appearance at the Transport Select Committee, where he said he had been in discussions with unions over commemorating transport workers who have died from Covid-19.

A memorial could be erected at London Victoria station in honour of Belly Mujinga, who died after being spat at by a man who claimed to have Covid-19.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), of which Ms Mujinga was a member, welcomed the proposal — but said it was a tragedy that transport workers had died at all during the health emergency. 

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