Labour’s rail nationalisation plans: a welcome start but a long way to go

Picture of a train in a station

29 April 2024

Passenger groups, campaigners, and rail unions have worked collectively over many years for the renationalisation of our railway, following its privatisation in the early 1990s. 

These groups have had much success forcing the government to take failing privatised rail lines back to the state, from East Coast Rail in 2018 to Transpennine Express in 2023.

On 25th April Labour announced that, if elected, it will bring the remaining private Train Operating Companies (TOCs) back into public ownership as their current contracts expire, over the next 5 years.

This is progress, and we welcome it - but there’s still a long journey ahead.

Louise Haigh, the Shadow Transport Minister, pledged to create Great British Railways: a publicly owned, arms length rail operating organisation, run by rail experts, who will take on responsibility for each TOC as they come into public ownership. 

Additionally, a Labour government would create a passenger voice, called the Passenger Standards Authority, to protect the interest of passengers. Ticket changes to streamline fares, and automatic refunds following train delays will also be brought in. This is a big win for passengers. 

Of course, this is not a new policy for Labour, but the new details show how serious they are about making sure our railways are run for those who use them, rather than those who draw profits from them.

However, we believe Labour could and should be going further. Our trains, carriages and freight vehicles, the rolling stock, are currently owned by ten private equity-backed companies that together made over £400 million in profit last year. Taking the ROSCOs into public ownership will go a long way toward enabling Labour to make the investments in our railway that are needed to make it work for passengers.

Here’s how passenger groups and campaigners have reacted to Labour’s policy announcement.

Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention said: 

“We give the news from the Labour Party a cautious welcome – anything that improves our rail services is certainly something we have been consistently campaigning for in recent years. But as always, the devil is in the detail, and dependent on the outcome of the General Election. We look forward to reading the proposals in full.”

Emily Yates, director of the Association of British Commuters said: 

"The government has wasted five and a half years on a rail reform process that has come to nothing. They themselves have proven that there is no way to integrate the system while conflicting private interests remain.

Labour's plan will not only save money, it will create the necessary basis to integrate the system in the public interest, allowing progressive policy choices fit to fight climate change, and boost social and regional equality."

Paula Peters of Disabled People Against Cuts said: 

“What Labour promise in an election year and what they deliver if elected to government are two different things. The rail network needs to be renationalised. Passengers demand cheap prices and reliable services.   

“Disabled people want a fully accessible rail network, stations, train rolling stock, fully staffed stations and ticket offices. Disabled people want to turn up and go and live their lives. With a fully renationalised rail network, we are more likely to see that.”

Ellie Harrison, founder of Bring Back British Rail said: 

“The stars will align for Labour, if they win the next general election, with all the remaining rail contracts expiring in the next parliamentary term. They would be mad not to use this opportunity to bring them all into public ownership as and when they expire.

“Bring Back British Rail has been campaigning for 15 years for a reunified national rail network run for people, not profit. These two elements are crucial - having one national rail operator across the whole network to simplify the system for passengers and provide a clear line of accountability.

“And secondly, ensuring there is always a public service ethos across the railways. We hope Labour's plans will deliver these, and create a railway network everyone across Britain can take pride in again.”

Listen to We Own It lead campaigner Johnbosco Nwogbo in conversation with Sarah Gorrell about the plans on BBC Sussex Radio.

Picture of a train in a station

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