Labour pitch a “people’s railway” as crucial conference looms

Nathanael Williams

On the week that Scottish Labour holds it spring party conference, unions are pushing for a public railway

SCOTTISH LABOUR will back a motion to formally support full public ownership of the railways in Scotland.

With the party attempting to steady itself in the face of polls suggesting a disasterous set of local elections in May, party spokesperson have highlighted transport as an issue to give the party renewed focus.

The train drivers’ union Aslef will bring forward a motion at the party’s conference happening in Perth from 24 to 26 February.

Under the spotlight: What’s wrong with Scotrail?

Scottish Labour’s transport spokesman Neil Bibby said: “Passengers in Scotland are paying over the odds for overcrowded, late running trains. There’s a better way to run the railways in Scotland and that is with a People’s ScotRail.

“The current set-up doesn’t provide the best possible value for money for passengers in Scotland. That’s why Scottish Labour supports a publicly owned People’s ScotRail which will mean a better deal for commuters.

“We need a public transport system that puts passengers first and the case for a People’s ScotRail gets more compelling by the week. It works for other countries like the Netherlands, France and Germany and there is no reason it can’t work here.”

Political tensions reached fever pitch last autumn and Christmas period when several services on Scotland’s rail broke down stranding thousands of passengers at stations. The Scottish Government has stressed that it has already lowered rail fares for some passengers, mostly those on season tickets. At the beginning of 2017, it funded a project which grants one week’s travel free to monthly and annual ScotRail season ticket holders. Edinburgh to Glasgow monthly season ticket holders, for example, save £95.50 as a result of the free week initiative compared with £82.80 had fares had been frozen.

“For a party that claims to be in favour of a publicly-owned ScotRail it does beg the question why Labour sat on their hands and chose not to stop franchising when they had a golden opportunity to do so.”

However, critics argue that the transport minister Humza Yousaf could do more in terms of putting pressure on the Scottish railway franchise owner Abellio.

Abellio, a private firm, has stated that it has had to put a lot of its turnover into improvements on Scotland’s rail and noted that its contract to run Scotrail the nation’s train franchise is not yet expired. Among the major improvements it is committed to, is the upgrade of the Glasgow Queen street line and the replacement of older trains carriages to newer electrical vehicles.

Speaking to CommonSpace, in response to the planned motion and conference vote, a spokesman for Humza Yousaf said: “For a party that claims to be in favour of a publicly-owned ScotRail it does beg the question why Labour sat on their hands and chose not to stop franchising when they had a golden opportunity to do so. In contrast, we pressed all Secretaries of State in the UK Government for this responsibility and each refused, effectively forcing us to go ahead with tendering process.

“We will deliver on our manifesto pledge to ensure a public sector body is in position to bid should either we or ScotRail take steps to invoke the break-point in the current contract and have started discussions with trades unions, party transport spokespersons and RTPs to discuss our approach to making this happen.”

“As service improvements and investment also impact on those across the country who do not use ScotRail season tickets, we will put in place a number of promotions throughout the year to ensure they also benefit from this investment.”

Abellio will end its contract to run Scotrail in 2020 when it’s franchise runs out.

Picture courtesy of Connor Kilroy

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