With November 5th marking the twentieth anniversary of the passing of the Railways Act, which the RMT Union says "condemned lifeline transport services in Britain to a generation of fragmentation and exploitation," The union has launched a fresh drive to end what they claim is "the privatised rip off which has left passengers paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on overcrowded, unreliable services."
New research produced by the RMT is said to show:
• Private train operators and rolling stock companies paid out dividends of over £359m in 2012-13 alone – money the union claims could have been invested in the maintenance, upgrading and capacity increases that are so desperately needed.
• Since 1995 over £3.5 billion has been paid out to private train operator shareholders in dividends – hard cash siphoned out of the railways that could have held fares down and financed a modernisation programme.
• Privatisation has hammered British passengers more – average ticket prices have increased by over 23% in real terms since 1995 leaving the UK with Europe’s highest commuter fares for both day returns and season tickets.
• Rail passenger fare revenue in the UK increased 150% between 1994-95 and 2012-13 while investment has been effectively frozen. Whilst passenger numbers have increased by 60% carriage capacity has increased by only 3%. Passengers, are crammed into trains with many on the busiest routes, unable to get on board at all.
• The taxpayer is subsidising this racket, says the RMT, with huge sums in corporate welfare. The most breath taking example being the halving of track access charges, the money the private train companies pay publicly-owned Network Rail to use the infrastructure, from £3.19 billion in 1994 to £1.59 billion in 2012* - 'robbing' Network Rail of £1.6 billion which could have covered the maintenance deficit, financed upgrading and wiped out the lethal level crossings.
Meanwhile, foreign state-owned operators says the RMT, have been cleaning up, using the extortionate fares and the taxpayer subsidies in the UK to underwrite the running of cheaper, modern and more reliable services in Paris, Berlin and beyond. Overseas companies, mainly state owned, now control 65% of Britain’s railways proving that the Government are happy with state ownership as long as it’s not by the British state in the interests of British people.
While European competitors have been building high-speed, modern rail networks the backlog of essential repairs and renewals in Britain has been allowed to build up to an estimated £1 billion with regular track, overhead line, embankment and drainage failures leaving services permanently on the edge of disruption. 2000 safety-critical track jobs have already been lost and with the regulator demanding another £1.7 billion of cuts, and train companies moving to axe guards and station staff to boost profits, Britain’s rail users face the prospect of years of misery as demand outstrips supply and infra-structure deteriorates.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: “With the twentieth anniversary of the Railways Act falling on November 5th this is the time to remember two decades of greed, exploitation and political sabotage which have dragged Britain’s railways through the mud in the name of private profit. It is also the time to renew the fight to end this long-running scandal and to bring the entire network back under public ownership.
“From the horrific consequences of Railtrack at Hatfield and Potters Bar, to the cold hard truth that British passengers are now paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on overcrowded and unreliable services that have been starved of investment, this is a catalogue of shame that starts with the Major Government, straddles the New Labour years and takes us right up to the current Clegg/Cameron axis.
“For twenty years the political class, of all parties, have failed the British rail passengers and workforce while overseas state operators have been allowed to plunder our services to keep costs down on their own turf. It is a shocking indictment that £3.5 billion has been robbed in private dividends while the essential maintenance backlog stands at around £1 billion and profit is placed head and shoulders above safety.
“Now we have the appalling stitch up on the East Coast Mainline where a publicly-owned operation, picking up the pieces when the private companies threw the keys back, is delivering a billion pounds back to the taxpayer, and high level performance, only for the Government to begin the process of smashing it to pieces before the next election.
“This week we remember the twenty years of profiteering and destruction on our railways and we step up the fight to bring the entire network back under public control.”
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