Covid-19 rail franchise suspensions must lead to public railways

Railway track and overhead lines.

TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, has urged the Government to bring Britain's railways into public hands after it was revealed Ministers are already working on plans for the rail industry in the light of a temporary suspension of franchise agreements. 

In March, the Department for Transport (DfT) switched all English passenger rail franchises into emergency management contracts for six months to prevent widespread insolvency – which has to date cost the taxpayer £3.5bn. 

In the lead up to the pandemic several rail franchises were believed to be on the verge of financial failure, including West Midlands Trains, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express and Greater Anglia, with Northern already taken back into public hands. 

In response to questions from Labour MP Ian Mearns, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris admitted work was "underway within Government to determine the most effective approach once this six month period ends.” 

Manuel Cortes said: 

"We need our railways in public hands for the long-term good of our country. The Government must act on this because our railways have taken a huge economic hit from Covid-19, and as ever the taxpayer has stepped in where privatisation has failed. 

"It would be madness to extend support to what are still private companies running our railways, allowing them to keep a 2% profit margin and taxpayers also footing the bill for largesse at board level with many fat cats getting lavish six-figures salaries. 

"Our railways have been vital in the fight against the virus and will continue to be in the longer-term economic recovery. The only reasonable and viable way forward is to cut out the profiteers and run our network in the public interest. 

"The way out of the Covid maze in an economic sense will be dictated by the amount of intervention the government is willing to offer. Now is the time for massive public investment to secure a green revolution to protect our jobs and our planet. Our railways, run on those lines and not for profit, can play a central part."