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Rail Partners responds to Labour’s plans to renationalise the railways

24 April 2024

Rail Partners chief executive, Andy Bagnall, said:  

‘Train companies agree that change is needed for the railways, but nationalisation is a political rather than a practical solution which will increase costs over time.

‘Creating a thriving railway for customers and taxpayers does not have to be an ideological choice between a monopoly railway in public hands and one that delivers private investment and innovation through franchising.

‘There is an alternative plan which gives the best of both worlds and is already being used by Labour Mayors and increasingly across Europe.’

Andy continued:

‘To change the railway for the better, we must correctly understand the causes of the current situation to get the right solutions. Since the pandemic, train companies have been effectively renationalised and subject to a level of micromanagement by government not even seen under British Rail. Exclusively blaming train companies for all the challenges facing the railway doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. 

‘Over time, the increased costs to the taxpayer of nationalisation due to the loss of commercial focus from private train companies will lead to either reduced train services or increased subsidy. That means rail competing for funding with other public services like the NHS. Historically, British Rail often lost this battle.

‘Private train companies have a track record of regrowing the railway in the two decades prior to the pandemic having doubled passenger numbers, increased the number of train services by a third, and turning a large cost to the taxpayer into an operational surplus for the Treasury. They want to partner with whoever is in government after the election to achieve these successes again.

‘There’s already an alternative plan that has been proven to work, exploiting the investment, innovation and commercial expertise of train companies but under the public control of a new governing body to join-up the railways and act on behalf of passengers. Rail users in London already benefit from this approach used by the capital’s Mayor to run buses, trains and trams. Manchester’s Mayor takes the same approach for the Bee bus network. 

‘Labour’s proposals are also moving in the exact opposite direction to what we’re seeing across Europe where other governments are seeking to copy the previous successes of the British model using competition amongst train companies – both for contracts and on the tracks – to reduce subsidies for taxpayers and provide a better service for passengers. 

‘We welcome the recognition in Labour’s plans that private sector freight and open access operators have a lot to offer. But ejecting private train companies from the railway will create a prolonged and messy transition at a time when we need all parts of the railway to pull together to deliver for passengers and freight customers.’ 

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