The Labour Party in the UK is flirting with re-nationalising British Rail. Fares are due to increase an average of 6% this year, and Britain already has the most expensive train system in Europe:
Making it clear that Labour agreed with many ideas in the report, which was funded by the main rail unions, Eagle said: “Under the current system we have unaccountable train companies given a licence to print money to operate a monopoly service at high cost to passengers in an industry that still relies on £4bn from taxpayers every year.
“Increasingly franchises are run by subsidiaries of the German, French and Dutch state railways with profits helping deliver ticket prices in those countries that are a third of ours. Labour’s policy review is therefore looking at all options to make our railways work better for passengers with nothing ruled out, including whether the not-for-dividend model that works for rail infrastructure should be extended to rail services.”
In my experience, in addition to being the most expensive, it’s also hilariously inefficient and unreliable. When I lived in Holland for three years, I used Nederlandse Spoorwegen extensively (as one would living in Amsterdam and later Rotterdam while working in Enschede), and it was cheap (especially with the Vordeelkaart, which for 50 Euros per year gave me a 40% discount off peak) and reliable. Likewise, given my past life in the beer community, I frequently took the train in Belgium, France, and held a Bahncard for the Deutsche Bahn for three years. While more expensive than the Dutch card, the Bahncard’s 50% reduction paid for itself with a single return from Amsterdam to Munich. Bonus, as munich has the odd decent beer.
Such consumer-friendly accoutrements are thin on the ground in the UK. I’m not sure that this is due to privatization per se, but if Margaret Thatcher considered privatising British Rail “a bridge too far”, perhaps sending the rail network to Arnhem wasn’t the best idea. While it would have been complicated, and counter to his “third way” rebranding of the Labour Party, Tony Blair could have reversed this in 1997, but he did quite the opposite.
Politically, this is a winner, especially if framed as above (the Germans, Dutch, and French state systems own chunks of ours, and hey look, their fares are 1/3 of ours). I’d drop references to the “non dividend model” and comparisons with Network Rail (which is a loser), and state it simply: we’re going to nationalise the rail network and bring it under public accountability. With parties struggling to differentiate themselves (outside of France or Greece), this makes a clear distinction for Labour.
The rail network does not operate as a market. Each route is run as a monopoly. I do have choice out of Plymouth, between two services, as far as Exeter (and, on rare occasion, Bristol). If I want to go to London, there’s one choice. If I want to go to the northwest, there’s one choice. It’s not a free market, unless I want to rent a car or take the bus, so stop with the charade.