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TRAIN drivers’ union Aslef accused the government yesterday of covering up the true cost of the “murky” world of rail privatisation to “make it harder for people to find out how we are being ripped off.”
It criticised the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Office for Road and Rail (ORR) for failing to fully reveal vital statistics and figures on the huge cost of subsidies to private rail operators.
The union launched its attack as it published its annual Rail Franchise Handbook yesterday, an in-depth report relating to the state of train and freight operating companies running on Britain’s railways, but some of the figures could not be included as they are no longer readily available.
The government spends a net £3.4 billion on Britain’s railways and the DfT used to publish details related to direct subsidies to train companies, as well as payments to Network Rail for the overall costs.
Aslef claims that this easily accessible system made meaningful scrutiny of railway privatisation possible, but the DfT has chosen now not to publish these figures.
The union also highlighted how dividends paid by train-operating companies to shareholders amounted to £228 million in 2015-16 in the last financial year where figures are available. The statistics from the ORR are not readily available either.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said the figures were important to show the “mad, mad world” of privatised railways.
He said: “Now [the figures] are creeping back into the shadows. It’s not fair on taxpayers, it’s not fair on passengers and it’s not fair on those of us who work in the rail industry.
“What has the government, and what have the privatised train companies, got to hide?”
Mr Whelan condemned Transport Secretary Chris Grayling for “trying to hide how much the taxpayer is putting in” and “how much the companies are taking out.”
The DfT commented that the statistics can always be found upon request at Companies House.
Mr Whelan responded: “But that’s not the point. The point is less clarity and diminishing transparency … The bottom line on the balance sheet is that Chris Grayling is making it harder for people to find out how we’re being ripped off.”
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