Lou Haigh to reveal ‘roadmap’ for public ownership of railways within first term

Katie Neame
Kings Cross station. Photo: pio3 / Shutterstock.com

Labour’s Louise Haigh has pledged to deliver the “biggest overhaul to our railways in a generation” ahead of the launch of the party’s “thorough and detailed roadmap” to take Britain’s rail network into public ownership.

At a launch event in central London on Thursday as part of Labour’s local election campaign, the Shadow Transport Secretary is expected to say Labour would “expect” to complete nationalisation within the first term of a Labour government.

Ahead of the event, the party shared a series of endorsements its plans have received from industry experts and others, including the chair of a recent government review into the railways, who said he welcomed Labour’s intention to take forward the “substance” of his recommendations.

The plans were also welcomed by the leader of Labour-affiliated train drivers’ union ASLEF who said the “stunning Labour vision for rail” would deliver “for the economy, for the taxpayer, for passengers and for staff”.

Haigh: ‘Biggest overhaul to our railways in a generation’

Labour said in a press release it would deliver a Railways Act to establish Great British Railways and “enable the full benefits of a unified railway”. The party said its rail reforms would have six key objectives: delivering rail services that are “reliable, affordable, efficient, quality, accessible and safe”.

Speaking ahead of Thursday’s launch event, Haigh said: “Labour will deliver the biggest overhaul to our railways in a generation. Whilst the Conservatives are content to let Britain’s broken railways fail passengers, Labour will deliver root-and-branch reform.

“After years of dysfunction and waste, our broken railways are unfit to meet the needs of modern Britain. Passengers and taxpayers alike are being failed, and our economy is being held back. Doing nothing is simply not an option.

“With Labour’s bold reforms, a publicly-owned railway will be single-mindedly focused on delivering for passengers and will be held to account on delivering reliable, safe, efficient, accessible, affordable and quality services.

“Labour’s detailed plans will get our railways back on track; driving up standards for passengers, bringing down costs for taxpayers, driving growth and getting Britain moving.”

Haigh to set out roadmap to deliver Great British Railways

Haigh will set out details of Labour’s plan to establish Great British Railways, pledging that her party would “put the passenger first” by delivering a best-price ticket guarantee and rolling out automatic delay repay and digital season tickets across the network within its first term in office.

The Labour frontbencher is expected to commit to the creation of a “powerful” new passenger watchdog, the Passenger Standards Authority, “to hold Great British Railways to account for passengers”.

She will promise to deliver “significant savings” to the taxpayer by “eliminating fragmentation, waste, bureaucracy and by stopping profits leaking out to private operators”, announcing that Great British Railways would be “unified, publicly-owned, accountable and arm’s length” and “led by rail experts, not Whitehall”.

Photo: Labour

Haigh is expected to announce that a Labour government would give devolved leaders, including metro mayors, a statutory role in the rail network.

She will also confirm that a Labour government would support “successful” open access and freight operators to continue to deliver, setting clear objectives and targets for passenger services and freight growth.

The Shadow Transport Secretary is likely to tell attendees that Labour would “expect” to complete the transition to public ownership within its first term, by folding existing private passenger rail contracts into the new body as they expire, without the taxpayer paying compensation costs.

Labour’s plans for the freight sector and train manufacturing

Labour said it will also announce plans on Thursday to harness the “huge economic potential” of rail freight and deliver a long-term strategy for train manufacturing.

It said its proposals would deliver more certainty for investors and manufacturers to plan for the long-term in rail manufacturing, as well as crowd in private investment to stimulate innovation. The plans will include a statutory duty on Great British Railways to enable the growth of rail freight.

Rail freight would remain within the private sector under a Labour government, but targets for increasing the use of rail freight would be set by the Transport Secretary, in addition to the statutory duty on Great British Railways.

Plans welcomed by industry experts and union leaders

Businessman Keith Williams – who chaired a recent government review of Britain’s railway – said: “I welcome Labour’s intention, if they are elected, to take forward the substance of my recommendations to deliver a better railway for passengers and freight by creating a rail body with an integrated profit and loss account, at arm’s length from government.

“Running a better railway and driving revenue and reducing costs will deliver economic growth, jobs and housing by delivering better connectivity.”

Jurgen Maier – the former UK head of Siemens who was recently appointed by Labour as an adviser on rail infrastructure policy – said the proposed reforms were a “significant step in the right direction”.

He added: “It is clear that there is no plan and no ambition for our UK railway at the present time. Creating a long-term strategy is exactly what we need and will begin to restore confidence across the network – especially for passengers.”

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “We have seen more positivity in this stunning Labour vision for rail than anything at any time from the Tories during all the years of the failed Tory privatisation of our industry and their subsequent, and incoherent, rail reform programme.

“The Labour commitment delivers for the economy, for the taxpayer, for passengers and for staff. We welcome the Labour Party reaffirming that it will bring our railways back into the public sector – which is where they belong – and we welcome Lou’s vision for freight.”

“Bringing our railways back into public ownership means we can invest properly in rail and build a greener, cleaner, more sustainable transport network which, in turn, will help the economy and build a brighter future for Britain,” he added.

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