PASSENGERS protesting against rail fare increases of 3.5 per cent, many of whom were also demanding the urgent renationalisation of the railways, were joined by RMT members outside rail stations across the country yesterday morning.
The RMT leaflet handed out to supporters and passengers outside Lewisham station in south-east London insisted ‘Cut Fares not Staff’ and emphasised: ‘There are fewer staff at stations, ticket offices are closing and Guards are being removed from trains.’
It warned: ‘After 25 years of rail privatisation, fares are still rising, timetables are in chaos and cuts are being made to services and staffing across our entire railway network. ‘Essential rail maintenance and engineering is being cut, meaning a worse, less safe service.’
Lewisham resident Eileen Ryder, who enthusiastically gave out the ‘Cut fares’ leaflet to passengers, told News Line: ‘I’m here not just because of the fare increases but because I want to see the railways and all public transport renationalised. ‘I no longer have a car and I see public transport as an essential service.
‘Outside of London, the service is appalling and needs much more investment.’
As the protests took place, new RMT research revealed that rail fares rose almost 50% faster than inflation after privatisation, while almost half of passenger revenue goes to foreign-owned rail companies.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash also warned: ‘A quarter of a century of rail privatisation has seen rail fares rise significantly faster than inflation, which instead of improving British rail has been used to boost the coffers of foreign rail. Last year alone, foreign rail firms made over £100 million in profits on the backs of rail passengers in the UK.’
He stressed: ‘The government may not care about passengers, but rail workers do, and we will be out around the country today stepping up the campaign for public ownership.’
A new TUC report also revealed yesterday that private rail companies putting fares up by 3.1% have paid out more than £1 billion in dividends to shareholders over the last six years. ‘That’s money that could – and should – have been reinvested to make our rail services better, not siphoned off for a few to make private profit at public expense,’ the TUC warned.
They also added: ‘Someone on an average salary travelling from Chelmsford to London will have to fork out 13% of their pay for a season ticket while, by contrast, a comparable commute costs just 2% of average salary in France, 3% in Ireland and 4% in Germany.’
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, commented: ‘The most reliable thing about our railways is the cash that goes to private shareholders each year. But with the most expensive fares in Europe, that can’t be right. ‘It’s rewarding failure and taking money away that should be invested in better services. It’s time to take the railways back into public hands.’