THE TUC, railway unions and transport campaigners have launched a campaign to fight job cuts, service reductions, ticket office closures and fare hikes in the rail industry.
At a meeting with MPs at the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 March, union leaders and representatives from the Campaign for Better Transport raised their concerns about the government’s proposals for the future of rail as outlined in the Rail Command Paper. They were joined by Shadow Transport Minister Maria Eagle.
Concerns raised included:
• The creation of multiple regional ‘Railtracks’ through the fragmentation of Network Rail, its capture by private operators through greater integration with Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and the selling of rail infrastructure through regional concessions, putting maintenance and safety at risk.
• Service reductions and punishing fare hikes for peak time commuters resulting from more flexible and longer TOC franchises.
• The closure of more than 650 ticket offices across the country, penalising staff and passengers.
• Job cuts of up to 20,000 rail staff on stations, trains, ticket offices, signalling and maintenance.
• Plans to undermine existing union agreements across the industry, with the freezing of above inflation pay rises and revised terms and conditions for new starters.
Rail unions also continued to highlight the costs of privatisation and pressed the case for better value for money and cost effectiveness through a national integrated railway under public ownership.
TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady, who was chairing the event, said: ‘Our railways are critical to the success of our nation and our economy.
‘But for too long, the costs of our dysfunctional privatised rail system have fallen on the passenger and the taxpayer while billions have leaked out of the industry through wasteful transaction costs, dividends and profits.
‘The government’s proposals do nothing to address the problems created by privatisation.
‘Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the government mantra remains: privatisation works, let’s have more of it.
‘The TUC is proud to support railway workers, passengers and communities in defence of affordable, accessible and safer rail.
‘We will be stepping up our efforts and building on the fantastic partnership we have put in place with unions and transport campaigners in the months ahead.’
General Secretary of ASLEF Mick Whelan said: ‘There is no strategy at the heart of the Rail Command Paper.
‘It leaves a lot of guesswork. TOCs are going to have to find £700m savings year on year, and they will effectively be writing their own franchises.
‘The simplest way for them to make those savings is to cut staff and wage costs.’
General Secretary of the RMT Bob Crow said: ‘The McNulty Review was right on some things. European railways are often more cost-effective and offer better and cheaper services.
‘The case is clear that integrated, national state-run railways offer better value and efficiency than the fragmented privatised mess we face in this country.
‘The solution is simple, bring back rail under a single integrated management under public ownership.’
General Secretary of the TSSA Manuel Cortes said: ‘All the evidence suggests that passengers want staff on trains and at stations.
‘In many cases, the booking office workers are the only staff left at that station.
‘You close those ticket offices and those stations become deserted, with huge implications for passenger safety and security.
‘If the government and TOCs want to cut ticket office staff, they are going to have the fight of their lives.’
National Officer for Rail at Unite, Julia Long, said: ‘We need a rail industry that delivers for passengers and the wider UK economy.
‘That includes train procurement that supports UK manufacturing.
‘The government has made some positive statements around the need to secure UK benefits from train orders – following hard union campaigning – but plans to delegate more train procurement to the train operators will undermine any serious attempts at an effective industrial strategy for UK train manufacturing.’
Campaigns Director at Campaign for Better Transport, Richard Hebditch, said: ‘Some of the proposals on ticketing reform, such as the commitment to part-time season tickets and increasing smart ticketing technology, could be helpful.
‘However, passengers want available staff, they want affordable trains and they want a reliable service.
‘The government claims to want to reduce ticket prices but this is only once the ambitious savings have been achieved and economic circumstances change.
‘For the foreseeable future, we expect to see inflation plus three per cent fare rises on regulated fares and now there will be punishing fare hikes for those commuters who travel during peak hours, most of whom are forced to do so by the hours that they work.’
Responding to the other speakers, Maria Eagle said: ‘The government’s rail strategy is set to put private profit before passengers thanks to its inability to stand up to vested interests.
‘Passengers are already feeling the impact of fare rises of up to 11 per cent this year thanks to the government’s decision to give back to train companies the right to hike fares by more than the so-called fare cap.
‘We now know from the refranchising tender documents that bidders have been promised the right to hike fares by eight per cent above inflation in 2013 and 2014 and then six per cent above inflation every year for the next 15 years.
‘To add to the pressure facing commuters, ministers are also set to give TOCs even greater freedoms, including permitting even more expensive ‘super peak’ tickets and closing ticket offices, making it harder to get the cheapest deals.
‘It’s no surprise that the party that brought us the botched and costly privatisation of the rail industry is hell bent on finishing the job of handing control of Britain’s rail network to private TOCs.
‘As a result of these plans, profit will now be the driving principle behind rail infrastructure in addition to rail services.
‘The proposed deep alliances will see a single regional manager for the first time being accountable not just to Network Rail, but equally to private train company bosses.
‘The creation of a set of “mini-Railtracks” will take us back to the days when decisions on infrastructure and maintenance were profit-driven.’