On Monday, Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, told the BBC that he doesn’t run the railways. You could be forgiven for thinking that given the word ‘Transport’ is in his title, that fact the railway companies answer to him and that under the GTR franchise agreement the Department for Transport are Southern’s only paying customer, he might at least take an active interest in how they are run. Apparently that thought is lost on him.
At the same Chris Grayling was busily rewriting his job description, I was at Three Bridges with Kate Osamor MP, Shadow Secretary of State, talking to Crawley commuters about Labour’s plan for fixing the railways. Increasing numbers of Crawley residents commute to London daily for work, at various points in my career I’ve been one of them, yet commuting conditions keep getting worse.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Under the current franchise agreement, money from tickets goes straight to Government, with the company paid a fixed amount. The end result: encouraging greater rail use through service improvements wouldn’t benefit Southern at all, cutbacks on the other hand, that’s where they make their profit.
Yet, this isn’t about just one type of franchise, the system is broken. Franchising discourages necessary long-term investment, while encouraging unreasonably low bids to secure deals. As ever, passengers are left living with the consequences.
Re-nationalisation won’t solve everything overnight, capacity improvements require greater investment and that will rely upon Labour’s national infrastructure plans, but it’s an important first step and, far more importantly, it will end the lack of accountability. Someone, somewhere needs to be in charge of running the railways and they need to be publicly accountable, never again can we have the Secretary of State for Transport claiming railways are nothing to do with them. This doesn’t even have to cost taxpayers a penny, all we need to do is wait for the current franchises to lapse and then bring them back into public ownership.
Enough is enough, it’s time to end the mayhem on the railways and Labour is ready to get on with the job.