General News

‘Action for rail’ campaign

Besi Besemar June 17, 2014

Action for RailCampaigners protest against new private rail franchise which could see hundreds of jobs cut.

Rail campaigners are protesting today against government plans to create a new giant private rail franchise which they claim could lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs.

From September private company Govia – a joint venture between French company Keolis, which is majority owned by French state railways 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 TUC’s 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 campaigners say 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 – 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 £21m in dividends to shareholders.

Govia is part-owned by France’s state railway, and 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 £1.2bn a year, with train operating companies making large profits off the back of these public subsidies. The TQL analysis also shows that eliminating this £1.2bn-a-year cost to the public purse could result in an 18 per cent cut in rail fares.

Rail campaigners, passengers and rail unions were 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.

At 9.15am campaigners went to the Go Ahead offices in Westminster to hand in a letter raising their concerns.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady

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, 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-less 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
Acting RMT General Secretary Mick Cash

Acting RMT General Secretary Mick Cash added: “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.”

Nancy Platts
Nancy Platts

Supporting the ‘Action for Rail’ campaign, Labour PPC Nancy Platts, said: “It is time that the interests of passengers were put before profit. Passengers are facing increasingly high fares but at the same time, the service they receive and their safety is being compromised. There is huge public support for rail franchises to be brought back into public ownership so that we have one railway again that offers a better deal for passengers.”