Privatising NR could risk passenger safety, says report

Privatising Network Rail could be bad for passenger safety and lead to higher fares, according to a new report commissioned by the TUC and Action for Rail Campaign.

Staying On The Right Track, written by Dr John Stittle of The University of Essex, warns of a “disastrous” return to the days of Railtrack if NR becomes a for-profit company.

Commissioned in response to the Government consultation being undertaken by Nicola Shaw into the future shape and financing of NR, the report was published on the final day of the consultation period - December 24 2015.

Dr Stittle makes the following arguments against the re-privatisation of NR:

  • Under NR’s predecessor Railtrack there were far more workplace accidents, broken rails and train drivers ignoring signals.
  • If NR is privatised, money that should be spent on infrastructure will go to shareholders, leading to higher fares.
  • Railtrack had a poor record of delivering important infrastructure projects within budget.
  • If NR’s debt is no longer underwritten by the state, equity investors may hesitate to invest, resulting in unsustainably high annual interest costs on NR’s debt.
  • Privatising NR would exacerbate the challenge faced by the UK rail industry, of being too fragmented, and with competing interests pursuing short-term commercial gains.

“It is essential that the Shaw Commission does not support any form of privatisation of Network Rail,” said Dr Stittle. “Railway privatisation has been a clear and costly failure for both passengers and taxpayers.

“The country cannot afford to have Network Rail privatised, either wholly or partially. The industry must not return to the disastrous era of Railtrack, where shareholder returns were placed above safety and investment.”

The report can be read in full at:

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  • P Hanson - 30/12/2015 20:04

    When will the Tories ever learn that privatisation is not the answer for our railways

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  • Martin Hollands - 03/01/2016 13:56

    Having been through the "pains" of Privatisation and having watched the substantial number of failures that happened as a result of the massive and poorly thought out "culture change" that followed I echo many of the sentiments here. The Loss of "Corporate Memory" was catastrophic, the "Race for the Quick Buck" was disastrous as new and inexperienced people forced their views over experienced railway managers and engineers, and got rid of them if they objected or blocked them. There were many good things that came out of it though and these ought not to be forgotten. The main thing was that it wasn't "Wrong" to grow the business. Privatisation was predicated on a declining railway and structures established for that. When growth became inevitable the structures could not handle it and mixed messages were being sent out. Reduce costs to maximise RoI at the same time as increasing capacity, but reducing track miles. The amount of unnecessary overheads through creating a confrontational series of processes for handling delay attribution etc lacked a pragmatism that marked the last few years of BR with the "Sectorisation" that operated within. The creation of a "Them and Us" culture was always going to be to the detriment and without a shadow of doubt simply Privatising NR again will bring back the worse elements without actually taking forward some of the potential gains. Sadly when Financial imperatives lead a company the need to deliver for the common good will disappear. There will also be a requirement for more regulation to ensure that future investment spend is not jeopardised as well as ensuring New and Innovative services and Train Operators can gain a foothold on the Railway Network.

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