Why not Renationalise the Railways?

I do not plan to make a habit of mimicing the opinions of others, but I am very interested in anything which could deliver a better service for rail-users to and from Reading.

Brighton MP Caroline Lucas, has written a provocative but useful article which explains the logic behind the Green Party’s stance of renationalising our railways, which can be boiled down to the following key points:

  • Although the government has capped the rise in some fares at 2.5% to save face in the run up to the general election, fares had already risen by 20% under the current government.
  • Using Brighton as an example, the daily commute to London costs £4400 per year amounting to 17% of the average salary – to commute from Reading to Paddington costs only fractionally less with an annual season ticket costing £4188 despite the much shorter distance.
  • Lucas proposes to renationalise each franchise as and when it expires (or fails).
  • The railways were originally privatised in the hopes that private investment would result in cheaper fares, faster trains and improved services.
  • The investments never materialised and private train operators “have benefited from far more public subsidy than British Rail ever did – to the tune of several billion pounds a year”, according to Lucas.
  • Meanwhile some of those companies are handing over up to 90% of their profits to their shareholders when they could be reducing fares or investing to improve services.
  • Lucas suggests that a nationalised railways system would cost £1billion less to run than the current system.

The argument for renationalisation is strongly supported by the case of the East Coast Mainline, which was nationalised when its franchise operator failed. Lucas says that: “In the five years it’s been run by the public sector, East Coast has returned nearly £1billion to the taxpayer. In public hands, it was vastly cheaper to run: according to a Compass report last year, receiving £0.46 of government funding per passenger per mile – compared to the £4.57 on the private West Coast. It increased passenger numbers, introduced a new timetable, improved punctuality and established industry leading approaches to waste recycling and carbon emissions reduction.”

What is there that is not to like about this idea, are there any hard facts which contradict this? I’d love to know what you think and hear about your experiences travelling to and from Reading as well as our local stations of Tilehurst, Reading West, Pangbourne and Theale?

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