Rail campaignersl today (17 June) held protests against government plans to create a new giant private rail franchise whose creation could lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs and a less safe rail network, according to the Action for Rail campaign.
From September private company Govia – a joint venture between French company Keolis, which is majority owned by the French state railway, and Go Ahead – will be given control of Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern railways, which together make up around a third of England’s passenger network.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) Action for Rail campaign says the new franchise has been rushed through without proper consultation and its creation will be bad for both passengers and taxpayers.
Under the new contract – signed off by the Department for Transport – Govia and Go Ahead will be allowed to reduce the number of guards on trains, introduce driver-only trains and cut station staff. The Action for Rail campaign fears this will leave to a less safe railway network – putting women and disabled passengers especially at risk.
Unions also fear that when Siemens takes over the rolling stock contract for Thameslink hundreds more jobs could be lost – especially amongst existing rail maintenance crews.
Govia, which currently runs Southern, Southeastern and London Midland, last year received over £700m in net public subsidies from taxpayers, and paid out £21 million in dividends to shareholders.
As Govia is part-owned by France’s state railway, Action for Rail says profits generated by the new franchise could end up being re-invested across the Channel instead of being spent improving domestic services.
Recent research by the think tank Transport for Quality of Life (TQL) has shown that rail privatisation costs taxpayers around £1.2 billion a year, with train operating companies making large profits off the back of these public subsidies. The TQL analysis also shows that eliminating this £1.2 billion a year cost to the public purse could result in an 18 per cent cut in rail fares.
Rail campaigners, passengers and rail unions gathered outside London’s Victoria mainline station in Terminus Place for an hour from 7.45am today, handing out action cards to passengers, asking them to contact their MPs to raise these concerns in Parliament, and to show support for a publicly-owned rail network. The campaigners later headed for the Go Ahead offices in Westminster (4 Matthew Parker Street SW1H 9NP) to hand in a letter raising their concerns.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Govia’s shareholders will be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of the huge dividends that will flow from controlling such a huge swathe of the English rail network.
“But with the profits likely to end up being ploughed into French railways, when the investment is needed in the network here, UK taxpayers and passengers will be getting a raw deal.
“Not only are there likely to be huge job cuts across the area controlled by the growing Govia empire, the prospect of driver-only trains and the loss of staff at stations across a third of the network will make travelling, especially late at night, a less safe experience for passengers.”
Acting RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “It is scandalous that the logical and popular option of bringing the massive Southern/Thameslink franchise under public ownership has been ignored and instead it has gone to a consortium involving the French state operator. Fares in London will go up to subsidise fares in Paris. This government is quite happy to have state ownership of our railways as long as it isn’t the British state.
“Regardless of who won this particular round of the great rail franchise lottery the bottom line is that those taking charge will have the green light to axe nearly 500 safety-critical guards and move the entire service to a driver-only operation – all in the name of greed and profit.
“Commuters forking out up to £5,000 a year will end up paying through the nose to travel on de-staffed, unreliable, overcrowded and unsafe trains. The only safe and sensible option was to bring the whole lot under public ownership but this government would rather carry on with the great rail privatisation rip off.”
ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said: “Passengers, taxpayers, and those of us who work on the railway are, yet again, being short changed by the government. The way ministers have gone about this is shabby. And the result is that private profits will be made at the public expense, by private companies slurping at the public trough.
“It’s ridiculous that British taxpayers are subsidising French railways and that British taxpayers, not Govia, will be liable to cough up if revenue targets are not met. It’s clear that the model is broken and we need a better railway – a properly-integrated, publicly-accountable, publicly-owned railway – to build a better railway for the 21st century to help build a better Britain.”
Unite national officer for the rail industry Bobby Morton said: “Once again, ministers are flying in the face of public opinion and financial common sense with this latest example of their obsession with the private sector to deliver rail services.
“The last 20 years of rail privatisation have seen billions wasted on managing the franchise process to the detriment of services as a whole, the staff who have suffered job cuts, and long-suffering passengers who have seen fares rise much faster than the rate of inflation.
“The railways should be taken back into public ownership as the best way of providing a joined-up, cost effective rail system for the national good, not just the interests of the shareholders of private companies.”
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: “This coalition will have increased rail fares by more than 20 per cent by next May while at the same time allowing private rail companies to extract hundreds of millions from passengers in profits.
“Over the same period, publicly-owned East Coast Main Line will have repaid over £900m to the Treasury. This is why we need a publicly-owned railway which puts passengers first.”