Report: A Public Future for Scotland's Railways

In-depth report argues the Franchise system should be dismantled, with the railways run as a public service as part of an integrated transport strategy

SCOTLAND needs a fully publicly owned and operated rail system to meet the needs of rail users, a new report published by Common Weal and the Transport Union TSSA  has argued.

The report, ‘A public future for Scotland’s Railways: How public ownership could be the start of a transformation in Scotland’s transport system’, can be read in full here.

The report is split into three parts:

  1. Why railways should be publicly run

The first part of the report analyses the current privatised and fragmented rail system. In Scotland, rail operators have regularly extracted £10-20m out of the system, with Abellio one of the most subsidised operators in the whole of the UK, with Scottish Govt subsidies amounting to 45% of its entire income. Rail systems around Europe have far greater public involvement, with the UK’s found to be 40% less efficient than comparable countries. Finland is highlighted as an example of a country similar to Scotland that has a publicly owned and run rail system that is more efficient, more affordable, more punctual, reaches more parts of the country, and where less public money is spent on it.

“Every time you spend ten pounds to go by train in Scotland you’ve paid 65p purely to make a private profit for a private company which is already receiving the highest rail subsidy in Britain. It makes no sense whatsoever, unless you are a shareholder or a political ideologue.” Robin McAlpine

  1. Why public control in Scotland of the operations of the railways should be seized at the earliest possible opportunity.

The second part argues that the Scottish Government must seize on new powers to have a public operator of the rail system in Scotland. The example of East Coast rail, which ran at a profit and was an industry leader while it was publicly run from 2009-2015, shows how this can be done successfully. The minimum that could be achieved by a public operator is the reinvestment of operating profits, which could reduce ticket prices by 6.5% in Scotland. A number of governance structures are proposed as options for this: an arms-length public body, an integrated public transport body and a co-operative governance structure. A democratic governance model should include passengers and rail workers at its heart. However, this section ends by highlighting the limits of a public bid – even if it is successful, it would have to go through the whole franchise bid process again in another 10 years and could not strategically align operations with infrastructure and rolling stock, as they would remain fragmented. The limits of our ambition can therefore not be restricted to a public franchise bid.

  1. How a public rail system could be part of a new long-term transport strategy for Scotland. 

The final section argues that a new approach to rail should be based on the principle that it is approached in the same way as Scotland’s roads – as a fundamental part of the country’s infrastructure and therefore publicly provided for. The starting point for this approach would be the abolishment of the Franchise system, which in 2015 led to the indirect extraction of £30m from the railways. Purchasing the rolling stock directly could also save millions. Infrastructure investment in Scotland’s railways could be substantially enhanced, with the success of the new Borders railway a case in point. A modal shift in, for instance, freight from road to rail through improved infrastructure investment could reduce C02 emissions from freight by 76%, while saving huge sums on the £967m annual road maintenance budget from the reduction of HGV’s on the roads. Rural areas, for instance Levenmouth, could become rail connected. Affordable well-connected rail could boost domestic tourism. If the UK-legislation on the Franchise system was repealed, or if the powers over this were fully devolved to allow the Scottish Government to eradicate the Franchise system, this would allow the railways to be run as a public service in line with wider transport strategy and isthe optimal approach to take going forward.

“First, we need to take back the train operating company franchise from Abellio, then we bring the rolling stock back in-house and we begin restoring a strong, collaborative relationship with publicly owned Network Rail in a company whose governance structures put passengers and rail workers at the heart of Scotland's railways.” Manuel Cortes

Commenting on the report, Robin McAlpine, Common Weal director, stated: “It’s time to be honest about what the current arrangements for trains in Scotland means. Passengers pay a very large sum of money to pay for unnecessary tendering and shareholder profits to create the impression that there is a market in rail fares which is pushing down costs. 

“But there isn’t a market in rail fares reducing costs, just one private monopoly for ten years then another private monopoly for ten years. Every time you spend ten pounds to go by train in Scotland you’ve paid 65p purely to make a private profit for a private company which is already receiving the highest rail subsidy in Britain. It makes no sense whatsoever, unless you are a shareholder or a political ideologue. This report is a case study of political obsession being put before the interests of taxpayers or passengers.”

“Our view is the franchise system should be replaced with a national rail service that aligns operations with network infrastructure, creating a coherent public rail system that brings Scotland more into line with European norms. But at the earliest available opportunity, ScotRail must be brought back into public hands.”

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes argued the report was a “how-to guide” to taking Scotland’s railways back into public control.

“First, we need to take back the train operating company franchise from Abellio, then we bring the rolling stock back in-house and we begin restoring a strong, collaborative relationship with publicly owned Network Rail in a company whose governance structures put passengers and rail workers at the heart of Scotland's railways,” Cortes stated. “It’s proposing nothing less than a Scottish People’s Railway as the most viable way of running Scotland’s railways.”

Comments

DaveS

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 09:48

In a way it's a detail, but I'm not convinced that the main benefit of a public buy out should be a reduction in fares. Rising demand on Scotrail exceeds that of most other rail operators, suggesting that fares are not a real issue, whereas the finances of the Scottish Government are increasingly under strain. I would prefer to see the savings (no shareholders hands in the till) go to the SG to help fund other public services, some of which are at risk.

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