Re-nationalise the railways – Since privatisation the private rail companies have taken all the profits while getting large subsidies on the costs of investment in the rail network from taxpayers’ money. At the same time they’ve increased fares at an overall rate since privatisation of well above the rate of inflation. Despite public subsidies train fares are currently more expensive than flying. The House of Commons Transport Committee reported in July last year that things have not improved.

 This is not the investment in the rail network we were promised privatisation would deliver. Re-nationalisation would save taxpayers money twice in the long run – in reduced fare costs and in rail profits being re-invested in expanding the rail network to open up new stations, improve safety and increase the regularity and speed of rail services.

Only re-nationalisation can stop taxpayers and rail travellers being ripped off and make train travel cheaper, safer, more affordable and more convenient with more regular trains. This would also help reduce air pollution and climate change.

Rail operators ( like National Express on the East Coast main line ) who benefited from a public subsidy when they were making a profit have also dropped contracts the moment they started making a loss during a recession, leaving taxpayers to pick up the bill – privatised railways don’t work and cost us money.

High Speed Train

Seventeen years after privatisation taxpayers subsidise rail firms more and pay higher fares than ever before, yet we still don’t have high speed trains like the one shown above.

Instead most of our trains still look like the one below.

Wishaw Train Station

The re-nationalisation of Railtrack by the establishment of Network Rail as a nationalised firm was seen by a gullible media as the government doing something ‘socialist’. In fact it’s been the opposite. By maintaining the separation between rail operators running trains (mostly private companies) who get all the profits and those responsible for maintenance and safety (Network Rail), which can’t possibly make a profit, the government has increased the burden on the taxpayer. The re-nationalisation of Railtrack at least allowed the opportunity to stop risking safety by trying to run a company whose only business was safety and maintenance for profit. This opportunity was not taken – and the government has said it plans to privatise Network Rail as soon as it can, which will further endanger safety despite the number of deaths each year on the railways rising from 288 in 2004 to 319 in 2008

Despite massive public subsidies and fare rises over 4,000 people were injured on British railways in 2008 – although this is a fall from the over 5,000 injured in 2004 it remains too high – and fatalities rose. The strike action which rail unions are balloting for is partly due to planned cuts in the numbers of maintenance and repair workers which could further compromise safety and lead to more deaths.

Regulation of petrol prices and breaking up big oil companies if necessary– Petrol prices have continued to rise even after the price of oil and petrol on global markets has fallen. While taxes on petrol have to be gradually increased to reduce air pollution (which kills millions through lung cancers) and climate change this should not be done before the government has provided affordable, reliable train services and an expanded rail network. Regulators need to crack down on informal pricing cartels by big oil companies – and if necessary use competition law to break up the biggest firms to promote competition.

Reduce import and road taxes on hybrid vehicles and on cars with the lowest petrol consumption, increase them on cars with poor fuel efficiency – This is the only way to reduce air pollution and climate change.

Increase tax on aviation fuel – as suggested by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee in 2003. Flying is far more polluting than train travel, but much cheaper –  train journeys should be cheaper than flying