Today supporters of Action for Rail have been protesting at some 40 plus mainline railway stations against next January’s fare rises, and in favour of public ownership.
The fare rises are occurring while the rail industry itself is heavily dependent on taxpayer subsidy. Figures released by the Office for Rail Regulation show that in 2012/13 the rail industry received £4bn in public funds, while train companies made £172m in profits and paid out £204m in dividends to share holders (see the False Economy website for a useful summary of this).
So if it weren’t for taxpayers footing the bill, the industry would be operating at a loss. Indeed, aside from the wider political arguments for public ownership, the maths alone makes a good case for nationalisation. The only rail company that returns more than it takes from the taxpayer is the publicly owned East Coast Main Line. But despite its obvious success, the coalition is set on privatising it.
Support for public ownership of the railways is strong. Some two thirds of the British public say the railways should be publicly owned, including over half of all conservative voters. Railway unions, the TUC and passenger groups, who have come together under the banner of Action For Rail, also support public ownership. Among political parties, the Green party has a very clear commitment to public ownership. They would bring each company into public ownership when its franchise was up for renewal. However, the Labour party, much to the dismay of some of its supporters, appears to be backing a compromise idea of a publicly owned company to bid for future franchises in competition with the private sector.
As someone who used to commute regularly by rail, and who still uses the railways two or three times a month, I’ve done the maths. I am backing the Green party and Action for Rail for a publicly owned railway.