What would publicly owned rail look like in the UK?

Talk about nationalised rail in this country and it won’t be long before some media or political figure will trot out tired cliches about British Rail sandwiches.

Ignoring the fact that BR was starved of investment, that it still delivered some of the most efficient railways in Europe, that nationalised rail in Europe delivers better performance and the fact that every survey shows that the public want re-nationalised rail, there’s plenty of vested interests in the privatised rail industry that think there’s no more powerful argument against nationalisation than inaccurate stereotypes dragged up from the 1970s.

What would publicly owned rail look like in the UK exactly? 

Well, maybe a starting point could be the East Coast Mainline.  Following the collapse of two previous private operators, East Coast has been run directly by the state for the last three years.

How is it doing?

Today we found out that Directly Owned Railways (DOR) who run the service posted the following results for the year:

  • Turnover amounted to £665.8 million, an increase of £20 million, leaving a profit before tax and service payments to the Department for Transport of £195.7 million, an increase of £13 million.
  • Passenger journeys at East Coast, which runs trains from London to Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland, increased by 2.1%
  • Customer satisfaction at East Coast rose by 2%, and the latest punctuality figures were its best since records began in 1999.

Who’d have thought, huh?

Bob Crow, General Secretary of RMT said: 

“These figures show that a publicly-owned train operator can run services without robbing the taxpayer and without ripping off huge private profits and dividends. Every single penny made by DOR is reinvested in services and that is why they should be handed the West Coast route as an alternative to the current franchise madness and be allowed to carry on developing a publicly-owned railway on the East Coast.”

So here we have a public ownership success story that certainly puts the spotlight on lesser performing private operators.

The government’s plan then?  The East Coast line will transfer to a new private operator around the end of 2013.