19 April 2022
The government's ‘Great British Rail Sale’ offers discounts on rail fares for 1% of journeys for one month only… but while passengers in the UK face the highest rail fares in Europe every day, we don’t need gimmicks. We need real solutions for our railways.
Rail privatisation is ripping us off to line shareholders pockets. So what’s the fix for our broken railways? Bring them into public ownership.
Why are UK rail fares so expensive?
There are three main factors - inadequate government funding, inefficient fragmentation and shareholder profits leaking out of the system.
Privatisation is a key reason why fares are so high. Private companies running our trains causes two major problems:
- Our railway is hugely fragmented. The railway needs a ‘guiding mind’ and clear management structure. Privatisation has made it complicated and chaotic, with many different actors and a serious lack of coordination. While train operating companies (including many state owned rail companies from other countries!) run sections of the network, ‘rolling stock’ companies own and lend the trains themselves, while Network Rail and the government are also involved. This is a very inefficient way to run a railway. The McNulty report of 2011 found that railway costs in the UK are about 30% higher than elsewhere.
- Privatisation also means we waste money on shareholder dividends - that’s money that could be reinvested back into the system.
Alongside a fragmented, privatised railway, lack of government funding is another important reason why fares are so high. The government forces passengers to pay more so it can pay less.
The railway is partly funded by fares and partly by the government. The UK is uniquely obsessed with loading the cost onto passengers, whereas continental European countries understand the benefit of higher public funding. Our government is being short-sighted by cutting funding - as mentioned above, investing in the railway boosts the economy overall. It pays for itself.
How would public ownership help to cut rail fares?
Overall, we waste around £1 billion a year on privatisation. If that money was put towards rail fares, we could cut them by 18%, or we could build 100 miles of new railway track.
In addition, we could plan for a railway fit for the future. A more efficient, well planned, publicly owned railway will help people leave cars and planes behind and help tackle the climate crisis.
No wonder 64% of us believe the railways should be in public ownership - including a majority of Conservative voters.