Labour’s shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood has again demanded that ministers ‘abandon plans to privatise Network Rail’ following a think tank’s call for the full privatisation and deregulation of Britain’s railways.
The Institute of Economic Affairs’s (IEA) discussion paper Without Delay: Getting Britain’s Railway’s Moving argues that the current structure of the railways ‘represents a case study on how to get privatisation wrong’.
On the wrong track: Should rail privatisation go forward or back?
The IEA says that ‘many of the common criticisms of the post-privatisation industry are misplaced’ but that regulation and state subsidies ‘have prevented it delivering the expected benefits’.
It argues for both the abolition of Network Rail and the liberalisation of rail services. For example, it says private railways should be allowed to close loss-making lines and services and to offer more flexible ticketing, such as ‘super-peak’ fares to tackle overcrowding or ‘economy class’ options such as standing-only carriages.
Most controversially, the IEA says rail companies should also be free ‘to determine an appropriate level of safety expenditure’. It claims that ‘many consumers might prefer a reduction in safety in return for lower fares’.
Ms Greenwood said: ‘This report makes it clear that breaking up Network Rail would be a recipe for higher fares, reduced spending on safety and even line closures.
‘More fragmentation and more privatisation are the last things that passengers need, but the Tories are considering dragging us back to the dark days of Railtrack. Ministers must unequivocally reject this report and abandon plans to privatise Network Rail.’
The IEA paper comes ahead of the publication of the Shaw Review into the future of Network Rail. Last week Transport Network reported a difference of opinion among train companies over the possible break up and privatisation of the infrastructure operator.