Publicly owned railways: the surest way to end rip off fares

Photo: Craig Maclean

by Gordon Martin, RMT Regional Organiser • Along with activists from RMT branches, I was out on Wednesday 3 January distributing postcards to rail commuters making their way to work on the first working day of the new year.

The reason we were distributing these postcards at railway stations across Scotland on 3 January was to highlight the fact that a new year brings an automatic increase in profits for the train operating companies in Scotland and across Britain.

With thousands of postcards handed out to the public the pressure can be built on politicians if their constituents take the time to return the postcards to them complaining about the increase in fares.

Rail fare increases are as predictable as the cold, dark and inevitably wet weather which greets workers making their way to work following the Christmas and New Year festivities and are set at the Retail Price Index calculation of inflation which saw an increase in January 2018 of 3.6 per cent for peak time fares.

With many workers in Scotland enduring pay cuts, pay freezes or at best minimal pay rises an increase of over 3.5 per cent in the cost of simply getting to their workplace is an additional burden in these times of politically inspired austerity.

The Scottish Government claim they mitigate against the fare increases. I don’t see much evidence of this and in my view the Scottish Government could and really should do more to protect working class people in Scotland from Tory austerity.

The Scottish Government also claim record investment is currently being put into the rail industry. There is no doubt improvements have been made and continue to be made to the rail network in some parts of Scotland.

The investment has primarily been in the areas where quicker and bigger returns for minimum investment while fares continue to go through the roof across the whole network including areas where little or no investment has been witnessed for many, many years.

Meanwhile the real risk to many workers in Scotland is they could soon be priced out of their job and be denied the right to work due to unaffordable train fares.

Following public anger at the poor performance of Abellio since they were handed the ScotRail franchise for a ten year period in 2015, the Scottish Government and in particular the Transport Minister Humza Yousaf MSP have made a lot of noise about allowing a public sector bid for the franchise when the current franchise ends in 2025.

I think it’s appropriate at this juncture to point out the fact that Abellio are a subsidiary of the Dutch Government and many other current franchises around Britain are operated by subsidiaries of the state.

You can have your railway operated by any state you like––as long as it’s not our own! Yet another piece of Tory legislation which defies logic!

While RMT welcomes the intention to allow a public sector bid for the ScotRail franchise as a small step forward from where we currently are we also acknowledge and have stated this fact on many occasions that in the longer term this is really comparable to putting a sticking plaster over a serious and gaping wound.

The reality remains that the pernicious 1993 Railway Act which led to the wholesale breakup and privatisation of British Rail must be repealed and replaced with legislation which would reverse the breakup of BR and which would bring the railway back into public ownership.

Only a fully nationalised railway with the profit motive removed and with genuine and sustained investment made to benefit the passengers and the communities they live in, in conjunction with an end to the constant attacks rail workers have been under since privatisation, will lead to a railway fit for the twenty-first century with all the social and economic benefits this can bring to people’s lives.

RMT will continue to campaign for the repeal of the 1993 Railway Act and continue to fight for our members jobs and to ensure the safety and well being of the travelling public.

The Scottish Socialist Voice has supported RMT campaigns and shown solidarity with RMT members during disputes over many years and I know we can count on the continuous support in the months and years ahead in the same unflinching manner we have enjoyed in the past.

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