Trade unionists and MPs gathered in Manchester yesterday (March 31), to warn that state funding for northern England’s railways is set to fall by over 85 per cent during the next 10 years, with dire implications for services and jobs.
The rally, held at Manchester’s Mechanics Institute by the cross union Action for Rail campaign, took place at the same time as the Northern Rail franchise was handed over to Arriva Rail North, a subsidiary of the German state owned Deutsche Bahn company.
The unions warned the new franchise, which began operating today (April 1), will feature worse services, fewer jobs and poorer passenger safety, after recent parliamentary figures revealed that over the next decade state funding for the North’s railways will drop by £236m in real terms.
In effect the cash strapped franchise will have to be run on a shoestring for Arriva to reap its profits.
Only 50 per cent of trains under the new franchise will have a guard to maintain safety and security or assist passengers with disabilities, despite a third of stations not having permanent staff and 93 percent of disabled people expressing a personal necessity for them at trains and stations.
There are also fears that Arriva will only run profitable lines, passing on charges to hard-pressed local authorities for the continuation of unprofitable “lifeline” services, as they attempt to squeeze every last drop of cash from the franchise.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, said the cuts exposed the lie of chancellor George Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse” claims.
“So much for the Northern powerhouse,” she said. “Drastic cuts to rail services can only mean increased fares, worse services, or job losses. The government needs to invest in a publicly-owned railway we can be proud of.”
Research carried out by Transport for Quality of Life shows that £1.5bn could be saved over the course of the current parliament if routes, including the Northern, TransPennine and West Coast Main Line, were operated by the public sector. The Treasury would also be able to pass on significant savings to commuters in the form of cheaper tickets.
Unite national officer for rail, Tony Murphy, was aghast that the Tories have brought in a German state owned company whose overarching aim is to benefit their own nation, when the government have effectively outlawed the practise for the British people.
“Passengers using the Northern Rail routes could face higher fares as subsidies are set to be slashed over the next decade, while the bizarre privatisation merry-go-round continues,” he said.
“The sooner that rail services are taken back into public ownership, the better for passengers, business and those employed on the railways,” Murphy added.
Labour MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, also attended the rally.
“Labour’s policy is to bring the railways back into public ownership so they can be run for passengers not profit,” she said. “That means fairer fares, investment in a 21st century railway and giving passengers a stronger voice.”