Get on board for a railway owned by the public - not by profiteers

Caroline Lucas will be protesting against the latest rises in rail fares
Caroline Lucas will be protesting against the latest rises in rail fares

If, on Monday morning, you hop aboard a train, you’re in for a nasty surprise.

If, on Monday morning, you hop aboard a train, you’re in for a nasty surprise.

Or not, perhaps - the New Year rail fare rise is, sadly, no shocker.

In fact, it’s become a biting post-Christmas tradition. Every year, private rail firms dole out the same gift: a nice, fat price hike.

We have some of the highest fares in Europe, and they continue to rocket; the average ticket price has soared 25% under the coalition government, vastly out of line with wage rises.

Brighton’s commuters to the capital are coughing up serious cash for their journeys - to the tune of more than £5,000 a year for some.

It’s an especially bitter pill, with private rail companies dependent upon public subsidies to run their services (these same companies then turn over an estimated 90% of their operating profits to shareholders).

In a nutshell, we pay for rail-boss bonuses, and we’re left with cramped trains, unreliable services and miserable, all too familiar delays. Not the best deal.

Privatisation has been a comprehensive failure. We can keep puffing along with the same punctured system, ignoring the check engine light, patching up problems, and paying ever more for ever less.

Or we can fix the fault at the source.

It’s time to shift gear and bring our railways back into public hands.

Which is just what my Railways Bill, which gets its second reading next week, seeks to do.

And it’s no dewy-eyed throwback to a 1970s British Rail. The modern, efficient, clean, affordable services enjoyed in other parts of Europe offer a much better blueprint than our own past.

At a conservative estimate, around £1.2 billion is lost each year as a result of fragmentation and privatisation. This is money that could - and should - be re-invested to improve our services and reduce fares.

Yet just last month, the government announced plans to re-privatise the East Coast mainline - a dreadful deal for passengers and taxpayers. In the five years it’s been run by the public sector, East Coast returned nearly £1 billion to the taxpayer, as well as increasing passenger numbers, introducing a new timetable, improving punctuality, and establishing industry-leading approaches to waste recycling and reducing carbon emissions. The decision to re-privatise was clearly not made in the public interest.

Passengers and taxpayers should be at the heart of such decision-making.

Thankfully, Labour has hopped back aboard. Well, a bit. Unwilling to fully commit, they appear to have one foot on, and one off. Tricky on a train.

They’d invite public operators to compete against private companies for lucrative rail contracts. In reality, of course, there’d be little competition at all.

Either you believe in a public railway, or you don’t.

Franchises should be brought back into public ownership as they either fail or their contracts expire. As it stands, our hands (and wallets) are being used to prop up a failing system for private gain.

Many of my constituents - lots of whom rely on the services regularly - are struggling with the constant unfair price hikes. On Monday morning, I’ll be joining them to rally against the rises.

I’ve met with rail operators and have made the case for a freeze on fares and more flexible, part-time season tickets, as well as lobbying for services to be expanded and for a second Brighton mainline, to ease overcrowding. But the only long-term solution to high fares and poor services is to bring the railways fully back into public hands.

There’s a great deal of public and political support for my bill. And we know that with the right political will and public pressure, reform can happen.

Change will not come easily; it means admitting the system has failed.

But demonstrating that courage of conviction would make for a railway to be proud of again. And, just possibly, even a parliament.

All aboard?

Labour candidate Nancy Platts calls for a better deal for rail passengers