RMT’s Mick Cash – The north & rail services:

The north deserves decent rail services

HS3 is a costly distraction and will suck essential funds from badly run northern lines, warns MICK CASH

My union has led the fight for expansion and modernisation of rail services in the north.

So it is galling in the extreme to watch this government and the mysterious local government outfit Rail North unveil plans for a new HS3 high-speed east-west rail service across northern England while plotting to axe jobs and services under new franchises for the area.

These are the very same bodies threatening to devastate jobs and services through the new Northern and Trans-Pennine Express (TPE) franchises.

Under new franchises for Northern Rail the successful bidder will introduce driver-only trains and sack guards and conductors while Trans-Pennine operators will have the option to do the same.

Ticket office closures and service reductions are also planned.

RMT will not tolerate this rank hypocrisy and we are demanding an expansion of services and capacity now rather than the proposed cuts — that is the message we will be taking to Parliament today in our lobby over the northern franchise carve-up.

The £7 billion taxpayer-funded HS3 project would link up centres including Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, York, Birmingham and Nottingham. But it is uncosted, unfunded and there is no timetable. There isn’t even an agreed route.

Even worse, the project will take years to complete and take even more resources away from current services. In other words, it is little more than a costly vanity project.

Rather than creating headline-grabbing policies, government resources would be better spent on improving services. For instance, there is already a chronic shortage of trains and things will get worse in April when TPE will lose nine of its 70 trains to Chiltern Railways in Oxfordshire.

Chiltern has struck a deal with the train-leasing company Porterbrook that owns the three-car sets which each seat about 200 passengers.

Government figures show that the Trans-Pennine franchise is already one of the most crowded in the country with almost a third of passengers being forced to stand during the rush hour.

The government did explore buying new trains four years ago but concluded it was too expensive for what is already one of the country’s most heavily subsidised franchises.

This is just one example of many that tells us that rail privatisation simply does not work. Under privatisation our railways require a subsidy of around £10 billion to operate a for-profit rail network with not enough funds coming from fares.

This means private operators can pay dividends provided by the taxpayer and pay less to use the track than it costs to maintain and upgrade. This drive for profits is behind the massive cuts proposed under the McNulty review, which includes the removal of guards, ticket office closures and the introduction of driver-only trains.

These plans also include service reductions, even greater fare increases and a huge reduction in the Trans-Pennine Express network with the potential scrapping of services to Cleethorpes, Scarborough, Blackpool, Windermere and Barrow-in-Furness.

However there is an alternative to the privatisation merry-go-round. The East Coast Main Line is a publicly owned operation which pays back more to the taxpayer every year.

Figures show that East Coast, under Directly Operated Railways (DOR), is paying £235 million a year back to the government, an increase of 12 per cent. That means that DOR will have paid back £1 billion to the British people since it took over in 2009 when the National Express franchise collapsed into chaos.

Yet this ideologically driven Tory-led government plans to bulldoze through East Coast re-privatisation before the next election, ignoring the financial and operational success of DOR and the catastrophic impact of two previous private-sector failures on the line.

The short-listed bidders for the reprivatisation include other European state rail operators, notably Keolis which is tied in with the French state railways, proving once again that the government is happy to have state control of our main inter-city routes as long as it’s not the British state.

It is simply ludicrous to even contemplate reprivatisation when not only have there been two previous private-sector failures on the East Coast route but when the public-sector rescue operation has been such a stunning success.

While public ownership puts money back into the coffers that can be reinvested in our railways, the private operators suck out colossal sums in subsidies and profits — that’s what privatisation means.

It is clear that the public model that has been so successful on the East Coast route must be replicated on the rest of the network including Northern and TPE.

Mick Cash is general secretary of the RMT.

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