May 17 2017
| Region: Cymru Wales, East Midlands, East of England, London, North East & Cumbria, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South East, South West, West Midlands, Yorkshire & the Humber
Labour’s call to renationalise the railways has divided sector commentators, with some saying the move would benefit passengers but others concerned that it could harm infrastructure delivery.
The party’s election manifesto, which was officially launched yesterday by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured), includes a promise to bring operation of the railways back under public control.
The proposal would see rail routes renationalised as each existing private franchise expires while the Railways Act 1993, under which the railways were privatised, would be repealed.
“Rail passengers have been frustrated by privatisation for a while,” commented director of campaign group ‘We Own It’ Cat Hobbs. “The system is fragmented and is not working.” She cited high fares and over packed carriages as the main sources of frustration.
She added that renationalisation could save the Government £1.3Bn per year, which could be “ploughed back into infrastructure upgrades and providing lower fares”.
However the Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer – speaking on behalf of train operators – argued that private franchising has brought significant benefits to the rail network.
“Together our industry is investing, competing and innovating to improve as one team,” he said. “Our promise is to deliver 6400 extra services a day and 5500 new carriages by 2021, part of a £50Bn-plus upgrade plan to give better journeys for passengers and make local economies stronger and fairer, now and for the future.
“These vital improvements are made possible because of a £2Bn improvement in the railway’s finances since franchising was introduced.”
Also commenting on Labour’s manifesto Institute of Economic Affairs chief economist Julian Jessop said: “By calling for renationalisation of the railways they seem to have blithely ignored Network Rail’s current record, with its awful mismanagement, mounting debt and mammoth cost overruns. The tried and tested pursuit of state control has failed before and will fail again.”
On a more positive note Law firm Clyde & Co partner Robert Meakin said: “While renationalisation plans for the railways and energy sector will grab many of the headlines, there is much else in the manifesto for the industry to chew over.
“There is continuing support for HS2 and Crossrail 2 – as well as for the National Infrastructure Commission – and HS3 is rebranded as Crossrail of the North.”
The manifesto also includes commitments to extend High Speed 2 into Scotland and to support the creation of municipal bus companies that are publically run. In addition the party pledges to build a second railway line to Brighton on the south coast.
Brighton and Hove City Council leader Warren Morgan said: “We welcome any steps towards improving the rail infrastructure between London and Brighton. The current line is rapidly running out of capacity and the strength of our city economy depends on reliable rail links both to Gatwick and the capital.”
Campaign group Brighton Main Line 2, which is supporting a second rail route to the city, also welcomed Labour's manifesto commitment. Project manager Brian Hart said: “We hope that whoever forms the next Government there will emerge a political consensus of support for building BML2 which is very much overdue as demonstrated by our creaking network which struggles every day.”
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