29 February 2016
This letter to the editor appears in Rail Pro magazine (page 16).
The call by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) for ‘full-blooded privatisation’ is not only ideological and misguided, it is dangerous.
Rail infrastructure has been privatised before. Under Railtrack, our railways were asset stripped to maximise shareholder value. The result was that people died in the crashes of Hatfield and Potters Bar.
Passengers don’t want new standing-only carriages and line closures as the IEA prescribes, and they don’t want deaths on the railway. We don’t know who the IEA is working for - it has been found to be ‘highly opaque’ and untransparent in terms of its funding. It is definitely not working for passengers.
There is no mandate for privatising Network Rail. Nearly 60% of the public want a publicly owned Network Rail; less than one in four support its privatisation. Amongst Conservative voters, a majority still supports public ownership.
Now that Network Rail’s debt is on the public balance sheet, politicians have leapt to attention. But the reality is that Network Rail has been indirectly subsidising the train companies for years through low track access charges. Meanwhile, the train companies have been leeching off passengers, increasing fares to boost their profits.
We are paying more than we should for our railways because of privatisation. Private railways won’t ‘end wasteful investment’ as the IEA would like to think – they are wasteful investment. Research shows that £1.2 billion a year could be saved under public ownership – and this move would have strong public support.
Privatisation and fragmentation have been a disaster. We don’t need any more of them. The IEA is like a medieval doctor, using outdated methods, calling for our railways to be bled dry.
Passengers will suffer if this goes ahead - we need to stop Network Rail privatisation in its tracks.
Cat Hobbs, Director, We Own It
Christian Wolmar, journalist, author and railway historian
Dr John Stittle, Senior Lecturer in Accounting, University of Essex
Ellie Harrison, Founder, Bring Back British Rail
Neal Lawson, Chair, Compass
Tony Murphy, National Officer, Unite
Dr Robert Jupe, Professor of Accounting and Public Management, University of Kent
Ian Taylor, Director, Transport for Quality of Life