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Unions demand government nationalises Britain's ‘broken, privatised railways’

RAIL unions and campaigners demanded the government nationalise all of Britain’s “broken, privatised railways” today after it announced the failing franchise for Northern Rail would be taken into public hands.

The decision will see the contract stripped from operator Arriva Rail North (ARN) from March 1, following consistent problems with the firm’s management of rail services.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said passengers had "lost trust” in the network.

He said: “People across the north deserve better, their communities deserve better and I am determined to achieve that.”

ARN, which is a German-based firm, had been contracted by the government to run Northern services until March 2025.

However, services on the line have been particularly bad in the past two years.

A revised service timetable released in May 2018 saw the widespread cancellation of services, leaving thousands of commuters across northern England stranded on a daily basis.

Services have stabilised since, but severe delays and cancellations still plague the railway.

After a storm of growing criticism from civic and political figures in the north, Mr Shapps said earlier this month that Northern’s management of services was “unacceptable.”

He also revealed that the Department for Transport was considering the choice of whether to hand a short-term contract to ARN or to take it into government hands on an Operator of Last Resort basis.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan welcomed the move, but urged the government to “do it properly” with a “clear, long-term strategic vision” for the railways, and not just as a response to company failure.

Mr Whelan also warned that “systemic failures” from Northern managers meant that improvements to service would not come quickly.

He said: “The late delivery of new rolling stock, the cancellation by the Conservative government of infrastructure upgrades, trying to run a service with too few drivers — cannot be remedied overnight."

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said that Northern had become “a signal for everything that is wrong on Britain’s broken, privatised railways" and argued that the decision should “open the floodgates” for nationalising the entire railway system.

He said: “The return of Northern to the public domain, joining the East Coast Main Line, should not be seen as a short-term fix and a holding operation pending another punt on another bunch of private speculators.

“This has to be a permanent move followed up with the investment and planning needed to deliver the rail services that passengers deserve after years of privatised chaos.”

His sentiments were echoed by TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes, who said that “we are likely to be here again in the not-too-distant future, with the DfT recently indicating that South Western Railway is not sustainable in the long term.

“The Northern announcement is further confirmation that the taxpayer, as so-called Operator of Last Resort, is actually the Operator of First Choice.”

Cat Hobbs, the director of the anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It said: “For far too long, we've put up with endless delays and cancellations on Northern.

"It's no surprise it has the lowest satisfaction rating of any franchise, whereas the publicly-owned East Coast has one of the highest.

"But the crisis on our railway doesn't start and end with Northern. Rail privatisation has failed all across the country.

"With East Coast and now Northern in public hands, it's clear that public ownership of the railway is the right direction of travel.”

Labour shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald MP said: “The Tories have refused to hold Arriva to the terms of its Northern Rail contract. Millions of passengers have faced misery and delays yet this government has done nothing for years. And now, despite their failure, another private transport company is getting a Tory bailout.
 
“Today’s admission of failure after years of denial is frankly too little too late. All failing rail contracts should be taken into public control as a major step towards uniting track and train.”

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