The European Parliament is debating and voting on the Fourth Railway Package. Proposals in the package include making the tendering of rail passenger services obligatory, and imposing the separation of train operation from infrastructure management in every EU member state.
Demostrations against the Package are being led by the unions’ Action for Rail campaign – including the ASLEF, the RMT, TSSA and Unite. Solidarity has called for MEPs to support the demonstrations.
The EC’s proposals could permanently expand the control that overseas rail companies will have over the UK’s rail services, Action for Rail warns, and will impose the UK’s model of privatised and fragmented rail passenger services across Europe. As any rail user can tell you this has created huge inefficiency and led to higher costs in the UK.
Action for Rail also believes that the package will make it impossible for any UK government to adopt an alternative to privatisation, ruling out successful publicly-owned and run services such as the East Coast Mainline. Customer satisfaction rates for the line are amongst the highest for train operating companies in the UK, the company provides an income of up to £800m to the Treasury and since 2011 it has received 35 industry awards.
While the UK government has opposed public ownership of the railways at home, Action for Rail is concerned that foreign state-owned rail companies are using this as an opportunity to make a profit. Of existing UK rail companies, Arriva is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the German national rail company Deutsche Bahn, Keolis is majority owned by the French national rail operator SNCF, and Abellio is owned by the Dutch state operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen.
According to a recent study by the Centre for Research on Socio-Economic Change for Arriva Trains Wales, subsidy exceeds private revenue from fares, with the state contributing 60p in every £1 of revenue. The report finds that privatisation is not value for money for UK taxpayers as Virgin West Coast Trains would not make a profit from the West Coast Mainline without state support, and Arriva Trains Wales would not run at all. Since the start of the franchise in 2003, Arriva and Deutsche Bahn (Deutsche Bahn AG acquired Arriva in 2010) have extracted £75 million in dividends.
Government plans to privatise East Coast Mainline could see the company taken over by Keolis and Eurostar through their joint bid.
Privatisation goes against public opinion. A YouGov Poll from November 2013 found that two-thirds (66 per cent) of respondents wanted the railways to be run by the public sector, compared to less than a quarter (23 per cent) wanting it to be run privately.
Pat Harrington of Solidarity commented:
"I urge all MEPs, particularly Nationalists, to vote against this package. The UK and others must be able to create a publicly-owned railway. The EU is trying to impose on other countries a system which has failed in the UK. Since privatisation 20 years ago faies have more than doubled in the UK and are now the highest in Europe. Yet still the private companies get £4 billion a year in public funding."
"As a former rail worker I have always advocated a return to a publicly owned railway. As a Nationalist Union, Solidarity has always called for renationalisation. The EU has no business telling the British people how to run their Railway."