Let's run our railway for people not profit
You don't get a choice about which train you take. As you're waiting on the railway platform, there's only one route and you can't choose which train company to use. So the idea that you're a 'customer' really doesn't help you as your fares increase, carriages get more crowded and the train companies (often owned by other European countries) rake in the profits at your expense.
If you travel by train - whether it's to commute to work every day or just go on the occasional weekend trip - you'll know that it can be wonderful. A chance to read, work, listen to music, stare out of the window and avoid the traffic. It can also involve paying an outrageous amount of money to crouch on the floor as the fumes from the toilet waft past.
Welcome to Britain's railway. Time for a change? We think so.
So what happened?
British Rail was broken up and privatised between 1994 and 1997, and since then rail services in the UK have been provided by private companies. There are 16 rail franchises in the UK, where the government gives train companies funding to run services for a certain period.
The cost of running the railways has more than doubled in real terms since privatisation, from £2.4 billion from 1990-95 to around £5.4 billion per year from 2005-10.
"Our continental friends enjoy a publicly owned railway; funnily enough, they copied us. Time we turned this around and stopped providing income for shareholders with money that should be ploughed back into a publicly-owned, British railway system." Catherine Vickery, We Own It supporter
If you feel like you're being ripped off when you take the train, you're absolutely right. Since privatisation, the average price of a train journey has increased by 23.5% in real terms. Fares on some routes have increased by 245%!
If our railway was run in public ownership, we'd save £1.2 billion a year, enough to fund an 18% cut in rail fares. That's because we wouldn't be wasting money on shareholder profits, fragmentation and a higher cost of borrowing.
Most expensive in Europe
The UK network is around 30% more expensive than railways in other European countries.
"For long distance, day return and season tickets, UK prices per kilometre are all around twice as much as the average of France, Germany, Italy and Spain." The Great Train Robbery report, 2013, CRESC, University of Manchester
In fact, many of our train companies are publicly owned, but by other European countries, who make millions of pounds a year in dividends from their British operations. For example, Arriva is owned by German national rail company Deutsche Bahn and Abellio is owned by the Dutch.
Packed together like sardines
Are you sick of squeezing onto overcrowded trains? The private sector has avoided investing in our railway. The average age of trains is higher than it was in 1996, and any investments are usually underwritten by the government - for example, with the West Coast Mainline electrification. Passenger numbers have increased by 60% since 1994/95, but by 2013 there was only a 3% increase in new carriages.
"The privatised rail operating companies and fragmented system is not working and never will. The taxpayer is paying more and more each year to pay the shareholders dividends and not improving services. This outrage has to stop." Reg Coles-Watson, We Own It supporter
More sell offs?
Transport Minister Chris Grayling has started to realise we need 'one joined-up team of people' running our railway. Sadly, he's avoiding the obvious solution: public ownership. Instead, he wants to start handing control of train tracks to rail companies. This is a dangerous proposal. Last time a private company looked after our rail infrastructure (Railtrack) there were fatal accidents, which is why publicly owned Network Rail took over.
The government also wants Network Rail to sell off assets like train stations. Our report shows that sell offs would mean we lose £10 billion in ten years. It makes more sense to run our railway as an integrated network, not break it up into little pieces.
Passengers not convinced by privatisation
Millions of us use trains every day - last year a record 1.3 billion train trips were made. Yet 76% of the public want the railways to be in public ownership while only three in ten people trust the rail industry. Most of us believe the railways should be accountable to taxpayers rather than shareholders.
Here we are on Channel 4 making the case for public ownership (we start the debate at 3:33):
"It was so good to see you speaking up for the railway passenger and stating the case for railways to be brought into public ownership. We must never give up hope for a brighter future." Wendé Maunder, We Own It supporter
Public ownership = totally possible
We know public ownership is possible because we've done it before. Recently.
In 2009, the East Coast line was taken into public ownership (after National Express walked out on the contract) and it was a huge success. The service had a 91% customer satisfaction rate, required much less public subsidy, paid back £1 billion to the Treasury and was the most efficient franchise in the UK.
The government reprivatised the East Coast line in 2015, handing it to Virgin Trains. But this example shows that if the railways were run for people not profit they could keep passengers happy and save us all money.
Bring on the future
We need to bring our fragmented railway network together and bring down fares. Taking control of our railways need not cost us a penny - each line could be brought into public ownership when the franchise with the train company ends.
This isn't about British Rail and whether its sandwiches were soggy. (The government underinvested in British Rail but it's time to move on.) The railway of the future can be better than the railway of the past. Shinier, sleeker, with better coffee and free wifi. More responsive and democratic. It's time to put passengers first.
Share if you want a railway that works for people not profit
Find out more
This report finds that £1.2 billion could be saved by bringing the railways into public ownership - which equates to an 18% fare cut across the board.
Jonathan Bartley, Green Party co-leader, explains why and how we should bring the railways into public ownership.
In a new video for We Own It, John McDonnell explains Labour's promise to bring rail, water, energy and the Royal Mail back into public ownership.