The Department for Transport (DfT) has described moves that could see it take over struggling rail franchises as ‘contingency planning to protect vital services’.
The RMT union claimed that preparations are being made to take over ‘collapsing’ franchises and demanded that ministers take immediate action to return franchises to public ownership.
It said preparations have been ramped up in the past week to pave the way for the Operator of Last Resort (OLR) to step in across the country, with Companies House records showing that strategic changes were made to the structure of a series of shell OLR companies ‘in readiness for them to take over’.
The union's general secretary, Mick Cash, said: ‘It's now clear that the final preparations for the public takeover of Britain's failed franchise system are now in place and RMT says the Government should stop dithering and get on with it.
‘All the operators are now effectively public operations anyway with the taxpayer taking responsibility through a network of management contracts from which the operators extract a profit for doing nothing. The final moves to full public ownership would be a mere formality.
‘We should cut out the middleman, end the failed privatisation experiment and reinvest the private profits in a green railway fit for the future.’
A DfT spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to replacing the complicated franchising system with new railway contracts that will deliver better journeys for passengers.
‘Whilst we are engaging with operators, OLR shelf company names are being updated as a small part of sensible contingency planning to protect vital rail services.’
Earlier this month, rail services in Wales were renationalised.