23 February 2016
Citigroup bankers have been brought in to advise Network Rail on how to privatise the 18 railway stations that it manages directly. (These include Birmingham New Street, Bristol Temple Meads, Edinburgh Waverley, Glasgow Central, Leeds, Liverpool Lime Street, Manchester Piccadilly and Reading, as well as ten major stations in London.)
Network Rail has recently been brought back onto the public balance sheet and is feeling the pressure to sell off stations for a quick fix to reduce its debt. This debt is partly caused by Network Rail giving a 'massive indirect subsidy' to the train companies for years. If the railways were brought into public ownership, £1.2 billion a year could be saved. We’re already wasting money on privatisation, but if we sell off assets we’ll waste more in the long term. We’ll lose public control over those assets, and we’ll lose the revenue stream and profits they would generate in the future.
That’s not how Network Rail or the government sees it. They are asking Citigroup (which became insolvent and had to be bailed out by the US government in 2008) to ‘test the market’ and explore selling off your stations. This raises the question, are train stations simply there to generate the maximum revenue? Or are they public places and part of communities? No one asked you whether you wanted your stations to be handed over to private investors. You might have other ideas for how to create the better railway stations of the future. For example, stations could offer:
- Art and architecture
- A place to meet and chat with friends and family
- Indoor (or outdoor) gardening and greenery
- Information about train services and help with your journey
- Eating and drinking
- A place for community groups to meet or advertise themselves
- Places for children to play
- Water features
Selling off stations won’t save money in the long term. But it's just as important to ask - what’s happened to the voice of passengers and communities in this debate? Network Rail needs to hear from you, not just from Citigroup.
So tell us in the comments below: If your local station was truly owned by you, what would you want from it? What do you think of the ideas above? What ideas do you have for improving stations? We’ll make sure your comments get heard by tweeting them to Network Rail and Citigroup. (You can also tweet them directly @networkrail @Citi and copy us in @We_OwnIt.)
Photo used under Creative Commons licensing, thanks to Chris Booth.