Wednesday 26 February 2020 3:48 pm

RMT calls on government to avoid 'reanimating the corpse' of rail franchising

Rail union RMT has called on the government to commit to a full renationalisation of the UK’s railways ahead of the imminent Williams review into the franchising system.

Although the review is expected to lead to an “overhaul” of the current system, RMT says that the concession model that is widely touted as the government’s preferred replacement option “is likely to lead to more profiteering and more dividends flowing overseas while leaving passengers trapped in a fragmented and expensive rail network”.

Read more: Rail franchising model ‘set to be scrapped’ in coming weeks

According to RMT’s report, which is entitled “Reanimating the corpse”, there is not evidence that such contracts will be provide a better service than the current franchise model.

It also points out that of the £204m made by concession contracts, which are used for the London Overground, TfL Rail, Merseyrail and Transport for Wales networks, £196m has been paid out in dividends.

Of this, £127m has been moved out of the UK rail network to overseas companies such as Abellio and Mitsui Group which own the franchises.

The government review, which has been led by former British Airways boss Keith Williams, is expected to be released imminently.

According to the Sunday Times, under the new system franchises will receive a set fee, with revenues collected by the government.

The overhaul is expected to be managed by a new public organisation, which will be in charge of awarding contracts and monitoring performance.

Instead of this model, RMT thinks that the government should take the improved services on the East Coast Mainline, which was recently nationalised, as an example of the policy it should follow.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “We’re going to hear a lot of big talk shortly about a new beginning on the railways but the reality is that any attempt to re-establish privatisation on the basis of concessions and management contracts is going to be another pathetic attempt to reanimate a corpse.

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“Any government that wasn’t in bed with big transport companies and City financiers would turn its back on this failed experiment, follow the logic that’s staring it in the face, and bring the whole network into public ownership.”

A Department for Transport spokesman hit back at the paper, saying that the review would bring an end to “the complicated franchising model and simplify fares to create a simpler, more effective system.

They went on to launch a defence of privatisation, saying: “Under British Rail the industry fell into decline and cuts were made to the railway, which we are now reversing. 

“Since privatisation passenger numbers have more than doubled, new trains are being delivered across the country, and we have one of the highest satisfaction levels and safest rail networks in Europe. 

“This would not have happened without £7.9bn of private investment over the past decade.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train operators and Network Rail said: “The public deserves a grown up discussion on the future of our railway.

“That’s why the rail industry put forward detailed proposals to deliver meaningful reform, increased accountability and tangible benefits across the country with different contracts allowing for the different kinds of services our customers want.

Read more: Struggling Northern Rail franchise nationalised and renamed Northern Trains

“This must be overseen by a new independent organising body for the railway and underpinned by reform of decades old regulations to deliver better, easier fares.”