Mutual railways can provide a better, cheaper alternative

Putting the rail network into the hands of the people can bring cheaper prices for commuters in future.

Putting the rail network into the hands of the people can bring cheaper prices for commuters in future.

Following news that British rail fares are set to skyrocket by 6.2 per cent in the New Year, a campaign set up by the Co-operative Party could provide a mutual solution in future.

The People’s Rail campaign was set up in 2009 to lobby for better accountability at Network Rail, has come under scrutiny over the years for lack of accountability, poor service and large bonuses being given to staff, despite being a public company.

Now, the campaign is working to extend its focus to the wider rail network and ensure operator licenses are handed back to the people who use the services through mutualisation.

Joe Fortune is a former rail lobbyist and has worked in the rail industry for over seven years. He became involved with the Co-operative Party through this work on the railways and is now the Co-operative Party’s Parliamentary Officer.

He explained that the priorities of the companies and the service users are very different: “At the minute you have a very small amount of people in their own financial self interest.”

Mr Fortune continued: “It would be a very different set of business priorities for the privatised system, than there would be for a system that has passengers and employees on the board.

“A lot of the train operating companies talk about having a passenger voice on their board, it’s a very weak passenger voice, if at all.”

He added that often the companies are “shooting fish in a barrel” as many people have no alternative but to use the services, even if they are of poor quality.

Along with drawing up plans for a mutualised Network Rail, People’s Rail has been “fleshing out” plans over the last years for mutually run rail franchises. These would be community-owned railway franchises, where the users and the workers would be in charge.

Mr Fortune said: “You’d have people who use the system, day-in and day-out, reliant on it for their commuting, family or leisure — who have the direct experience on what the service is to them or their family, taking decisions on what the service can do.

“The employees are important because these are people who will operate the service. They have a longevity of experience that they will bring to the mutual structure.”

This is a completely unique idea and hasn’t been done anywhere in the world. He added that if the idea caught on, then the UK would be “pushing the envelope” in the rail industry.

However he explained that he didn’t think a co-op bid for a franchise could happen any time soon, with many bids costing up to £15 million.

He said that instead they need to look at holding onto the franchises, such as East Coast, which is currently under public ownership, and turning them into mutuals.

At the moment there are plans for community rail partnerships across the UK, the most prominent being Go-Op, which is on the path to becoming the first co-operatively owned train operating company in the UK.

The Welsh Labour party has also included People’s Rail in its manifesto and is looking at lines they can mutualise.

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