A Vision for Scotland’s Railways

28th October 2021 | Evidence

A Vision for Scotland's Railways

In advance of COP26 – the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland’s Rail Unions came together to release their new report A Vision for Scotland’s Railways.

The report highlights the vital role that rail plays in addressing the climate emergency, and lays out a long-term vision for a “world-class rail service that is fully staffed, with affordable fares, stations that are accessible and trains that are clean, green and attractive.” Well worth a read!

Read the report

GB Rail Report

17th March 2020 | Evidence

The GB Rail Report – researched and written by our friends at Transport for Quality of Life and published as a Labour opposition whitepaper on 17 March 2020 – offers the most detailed plan we have seen so far for re-unifying our railways under public ownership.

The report defines a new governance structure for our national rail network, which is able to achieve both a central ‘guiding mind’ and long-term strategy (40 years), as well as devolved planning, delivery and control for all devolved regions and nations of Great Britain.

It manages to overcome many of the flaws of the old British Rail – its over-centralisation and lack of passenger representation at a strategic level (not to mention its chronic underfunding!) – and maps out how we can transition from our current privatised structure to a new wholly publicly-owned railway, which can be run in the interests of the British people in the most cost effective way. Well worth a read!

Read the report

Why we need publicly-owned railways to address the climate emergency

3rd December 2019 | Evidence

Below is an extract from A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency – the excellent new report by our friends at Transport for Quality of Life, which explains why taking our railways back into public ownership is an urgent climate issue.


It is worth explaining why we believe that changing the structure of the railway so that it is a single entity operating under public control is necessary in the context of a climate emergency, as the very live debate about the structure of the railways has not been framed in the context of action on climate change. There are four reasons why we believe that the current poor governance of the railway is a climate issue.

First, under the present system, Network Rail receives bids for train paths from train operators and has to try its best to fit them together. This is rather like trying to form a coherent picture from random pieces of different jigsaw puzzles. Network Rail has no power to design the most operationally-efficient timetable, or to create the most attractive offer to travellers. Were it to try to do this, it might receive legal challenges about access rights from the train operating companies or the Office of Rail and Road. Exacerbating this, the specification for each franchise is made in isolation and with little or no consultation with Network Rail, precluding a system-wide approach to timetabling. This means that it is next-to-impossible under the current structure of the railways to create a Swiss-style integrated clock-face timetable, which is essential as part of a universal, comprehensive public transport network.

Second, under the current structure of the railways, ticket purchase for anything but a straightforward journey with a single train operating company is excessively complex, and this, together with the high cost of rail travel, deters many people from travelling by train.

Third, fragmentation of the railway between multiple competing train operating companies means that when things go wrong, the passenger is often stuck in the middle: trains are not held to meet delayed services run by other operators (even if the delay is of a few minutes), and a ticket for one operator’s trains may not be accepted by another. Again, this means that people feel that they cannot trust public transport, and so they travel by car.

Finally, there is no objective for the railway to be run in a way that reduces carbon emissions – and nor can there be, because ‘the railway’, as a single entity, does not exist. These problems are structural, and it is only by changing the structure of the railway so that it is a single entity operating under public control, in the public interest, and with an objective to act in such a way as to reduce carbon emissions from transport to the greatest extent possible, that they can be resolved.

Transport for Quality of Life has carried out research in this area and is of the view that public ownership is necessary to achieve this. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have not carried out research in this area so do not have a position on public ownership, but do believe that the structure of the railway needs to change to be managed as a single entity and under public control.

Extract from A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency (p.14) by Lynn Sloman and Lisa Hopkinson, Transport for Quality of Life

Read the report

The Four Big Myths of Rail Privatisation

1st June 2015 | Evidence / News

The Four Big Myths of Rail Privatisation

Read this report from our friends at Action for Rail! It’s all the evidence you need that rail privatisation has failed to deliver what they promised it would in the ’90s:

  • • reduction in government subsidies (we now subsidise rail by nearly three times more than we did as British Rail)
  • • cheaper tickets (rail fares have risen by 24% in real terms since privatisation)
  • • innovation and investment (90% of the investment in the railways has come from public money)

Read the report

Rail Privatisation: A Timeline of Failures

1st April 2015 | Evidence / News

Rail Privatisation: A Timeline of Failures

A special edited and updated version of Rail Privatisation: A Timeline of Failures (below) – based on the design of British Rail’s 1979 ‘Go Direct by Inter-City‘ poster – features in A Better Railway for Britain: Bring Back British Rail’s first report, launched in October 2016.

Read the timeline

Today marks 21 years since the enactment of the Railways Act (1993), on 1 April 1994, which unleashed rail privatisation on the poor unfortunate public. Since then, Britain’s privatised railways have been beset by a series of failures, scandals and fatal crashes, each at great expense to taxpayers.

19 September 1997 – A collision between two trains at Southall kills seven people and injures 139. A passenger train running at high speed with defective Automatic Warning System equipment, a fundamentally important safety system, passed a signal at ‘danger’ and collided with a freight train crossing its path. Great Western Trains was fined £1.5 million for violations of health and safety law relating to this accident.

1 December 1998 – A report by the National Audit Office into the flotation of the national railway infrastructure company, Railtrack, found that taxpayers lost £1.5 billion because of the government’s decision to ignore the Public Accounts Committee’s recommendation to sell its shares in stages, opting instead to sell them all at once.

5 October 1999 – A near head-on collision between two passenger trains at Ladbroke Grove, outside London Paddington station, kills 31 people and injures more than 52. A signal with a bad safety record was passed at ‘danger’. A poor standard of driver training by Thames Trains was cited as a major contributory factor.

17 October 2000 – A train running at high speed derails at Hatfield when a rail affected by rolling contact fatigue fractures under its wheels. Four passengers were killed and 70 were injured. The crash exposed the major stewardship shortcomings of the privatised Railtrack plc and the failings of the regulatory oversight of the company (principally, failure to ensure that it had a good knowledge of the condition of its assets) which ultimately triggered its partial renationalisation. Following the crash, Railtrack imposed more than 1,200 emergency speed restrictions across its network, since it did not have the knowledge to predict where rolling contact fatigue might hit next.

24 October 2000 – Connex loses its South Central franchise after a decision by the Strategic Rail Authority to re-let the franchise following criticism of Connex’s poor customer service and poor financial management.

7 October 2001 – In the face of severe financial difficulties, Railtrack plc is placed into railway administration by the Labour government’s Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers. This leads to an explosion of costs and a severe drop in performance. Railtrack was subsequently replaced by Network Rail.

10 May 2002 – A train derails at Potters Bar, killing seven people and injuring 76. A poorly maintained set of points was to blame, the maintenance of which was the responsibility of the private sector railway maintenance contractor Jarvis (who had tried to blame the accident on ‘sabotage’). Eight years later, Jarvis and Network Rail (having taken on Railtrack’s liabilities) were both charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Network Rail subsequently took track maintenance back in-house.

27 June 2003 – The Connex South Eastern franchise is terminated by the Strategic Rail Authority, citing the company’s poor performance and financial management.

15 December 2006 – GNER is stripped of its East Coast franchise by the Department for Transport, having fallen into financial difficulties and unable to meet the terms of its franchise.

13 November 2009 – National Express gives up the East Coast franchise (which it had taken over from GNER) owing to financial difficulties, having accumulated more than £1 billion of debt. The failure of this franchise deprived the Department for Transport of between £330 million and £380 million of revenue.

15 August 2012 – The Department for Transport announces FirstGroup plc as the winner of the InterCity West Coast franchise, prompting the incumbent franchise holder, Virgin, to seek a judicial review of the franchise decision.

3 October 2012 – The government announces the cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise competition after finding significant technical flaws in the bidding process, rescinding its decision to award the franchise to FirstGroup. The Public Accounts Committee found that civil servants had made “fundamental errors” in the way that the risks for each bid had been calculated, leading to the default surety required of bidders being too low. The government reimbursed the four bidders for all costs incurred; this amounted to £39.7 million, with a further £4.9 million paid to FirstGroup as reimbursement of their mobilisation costs. In the ensuing shambles, numerous incumbent franchise holders were directly awarded extensions to their franchises instead of opening them up to tender. So much for competition!

17 December 2014 – A report from the Public Accounts Committee is severely critical of the Department for Transport’s inept handling of the procurement of new trains for the Intercity Express Programme and Thameslink. The DfT had chosen to break away from previous procurement arrangements and carry out the procurement by itself, despite having no previous experience in this area.

3 April 2015 – The private train operator West Coast Railways has its operator’s licence suspended by Network Rail amid concerns over the company’s ability to perform its safety obligations. This action followed an incident on 7 March 2015, when a steam-hauled train operated by West Coast Railways passed a signal at ‘danger’ after the driver had switched off vital train protection systems, narrowly avoiding a collision with a passenger train running at 100 mph.

Is it anyone wonder we’re all shouting Bring Back British Rail?

Spread the word! Link to this post using www.bringbackbritishrail.org/timeline and read more compelling evidence for Public Ownership here: www.bringbackbritishrail.org/evidence

Towards Public Ownership

31st March 2015 | Evidence / News

Towards Public Ownership

This TUC Report summarises research by Transport for Quality of Life, to show the high costs of running rail franchise “competitions” – estimated at £45million for every single one!

Given that there are 11 of these unnecessary “competitions” scheduled to take place before the next parliament ends in 2020, the Report shows how much we could save by then if we chose to run these franchises under a single publicly-owned railway company instead. It’s more than £600million!

Read the report