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THE Railway Regulation Act of 1844 ensured that train travel became accessible to some of the poorest in society.
But it went beyond that, mandating a minimum standard of travel for passengers, and giving government the power to limit fares and purchase new lines.
It’s an example of how government intervention succeeded in bringing the benefits of new technology to the people.
In 2019, we need to be just as ambitious. Labour is putting forward a new vision for our economy and our society in Scotland, and an essential part of that is investing in our railways, bringing them back into democratic ownership and public control.
I commute between Scotland’s two biggest cities regularly. When I get into either Queen Street or Waverley station, I look up at the departures board and hope I don’t see that my train has been cancelled or delayed.
Unfortunately, with 75,000 trains cancelled since Abellio began running services in 2015 — that’s an average of 47 trains cancelled a day — the chance that it will be is significant.
As a result, we have become used to paying overpriced fares for overcrowded trains, with too few carriages and poor wifi. With fares set to go up even further in January, that will mean there’s been a 13 per cent increase in the last four years.
We’ve been given a full range of excuses for a rail service where the only constant has been a failure to deliver.
None of these have been realistic, because the problems facing Scotland’s transport system cannot be solved simply by “efficiencies” or tinkering around the edges.
Instead, if we are to fix our broken systems of transport and infrastructure, we need an end to the managerialism that has proved itself to be incapable of seeing the bigger picture — a bigger picture that is obvious to so many of us.
This Monday morning my journey was a little different. Instead of getting on a train to Edinburgh, I stayed in Glasgow, with activists and trade unionists from across the city.
We spoke to commuters about public transport and Labour’s plans, and talked to hundreds of people. And if one thing is clear, it’s that passengers are fed up of the failed experiment of privatisation.
They are sick of missing appointments, being late for work, but most of all, they are fed up that delays and cancellations have become the norm.
Only Labour is going into this general election offering a real alternative future to this chaotic reality of today. Only Labour will build a transport system fit for the future.
We are offering a real and radical alternative to the limited politics of the last decade. A Labour government will not just change the title deeds of our railways — we’ll make sure that this public transport is publicly owned and orientated, bringing train and track together under a single, publicly owned company where decisions on Scottish routes are made here in Scotland.
Because if we are to stop the rapid advance of the climate crisis, green public transport needs to be at the centre of the green industrial revolution.
At present, our railways are incapable of meeting this challenge. Going to Aberdeen or Oban, to the east coast or the west, the problems are the same, and they drive people onto the roads.
We can’t combat congestion or climate change unless we can provide people with a decent, affordable and reliable rail service.
But under both SNP and Conservative administrations, our railways have been allowed to decline. It should therefore come as no surprise that SNP and Tory MSPs voted down our attempt to end the Scotrail franchise last month — but it is still bitterly disappointing that the anger of passengers and rail workers alike is not recognised by politicians of all stripes.
In contrast, Labour has a radical vision — and a way forward. With a new economy, powered by free full-fibre broadband and a rail service held in public hands, rural areas across Scotland and cities outside the central belt will be become full participants in Scotland’s economy, and share in its development.
In the 19th century, railways were a catalyst of the Industrial Revolution. They allowed people and freight to travel across the length and breadth of Britain.
As we approach 2020, our plans have the ambition to live up to this legacy. We know that railways are integral not just to the economy of our country, but to the daily lives of its people.
We will go way beyond rebranding and railcards, and return our railways to public ownership, to an integrated system of track and train, and to democratic control.
Only this can address the delays, the overcrowding, and the daily crises of our rail network, which disrupt the working lives of so many passengers.
Only Labour will end the privatisation of this public resource. And only voting Labour will ensure our trains run for the many, not the few.
Richard Leonard is leader of Scottish Labour.
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