Large stretches of Britain’s railway network would be returned to public control as soon as possible after the election by a Labour government, the shadow Transport Secretary has said.
Michael Dugher denounced railway privatisation in the 1990s as a disaster and said the party would “rip up” the current system of handing operating franchises to private train companies.
His comments abandoned Labour’s previous position which had been to allow the public sector to compete alongside the companies for the franchises when they come up for renewal.
The Conservatives condemned the “woolly” policy announcement and are likely to cite it as further evidence of Labour pursuing a left-wing agenda harking back to a discredited era when vast sections of industry were run by the state.
Mr Dugher told the New Statesman he did not want to bring back British Rail, but added: “I’m adamant the public sector will be running sections of our rail network as soon as we can do that.
“I’m also adamant about putting the whole franchising system, as it stands today, in the bin. We’re going to have a proper review, we’re going to rip up the old model of franchising and I want to see more public control in terms of the running of the railways.”
He argued that the whole privatised model of the railways, which was brought in by John Major’s government, had been “botched” initially and then tweaked in response to events such as the Hatfield crash in 2000 and the collapse two years later of Railtrack, the group of companies which owned the rail infrastructure.
“We are dealing with the consequences of one of the worst decisions that any government has made. It’s not going back to a 70s, 80s model of British Rail but I think you can do far more to make some really big changes and that’s why I’m talking about a public sector operator, really, really important.”
He said: "I’m going to be honest and proud about this: I want there to be more public control of the railways and we should just say it because, actually, that’s what the public think as well. We’ve talked about how the only people who have no voice at the moment in the running of the railways are the travelling public, the passengers themselves.
He also promised to scrap the Rail Delivery Group, which comprises the passenger train operating companies, freight operators and Network Rail, describing the organisation as “a cosy stitch-up”.
Mr Dugher said: “The only people who have no voice at the moment in the running of the railways are the travelling public, the passengers themselves.”
A Conservative spokesman responded: “These woolly ideas would create chaos on infrastructure that is so vital to our economy.”
He said the government was investing a record £38bn on the railways and Labour was yet to say how the funding “would be affected by their intention to be both player and referee”.Reuse content