Decades of privatisation, chronic underinvestment, and cuts have left the UK rail industry in a parlous state. Train operators have ravaged services, as well as the conditions of rail workers.
A sign of this decline is that train cancellations in Britain have reached their highest level on record.
According to recently-released data, more than 314,000 trains were fully or partially cancelled in the year to October. According to the government’s Office of Rail and Road, the proportion of cancelled trains has more than doubled since 2015, now accounting for more than 1-in-26 of every service in Britain.
Companies operating in the north of England, such as Avanti and Transpennine Express, are particularly guilty offenders, having cut 60% and 69% of their services since 2019, respectively. Of course, the bosses are looking to place the blame for the decline on anyone but themselves.
According to rail executives, the reductions in services are a product of reduced train driver recruitment and training during the COVID pandemic, in addition to the removal of a system to allow drivers to work overtime.
As train driver union ASLEF has pointed out, rail bosses have made much use of the overtime mechanism and the pandemic as excuses for limited recruitment into the sector. However, the lack of recruitment of train drivers was already a problem prior to the pandemic.
The real blame lies with these fat-cats who have profited from squeezing workers and passengers alike, whilst failing to provide decent conditions, pay, or services.
From the point of view of the capitalists, things couldn’t be better. Before COVID, operators were paying out £262 million in dividends, falling to £32 million during the pandemic. At the same time, the Tories continue to pay out millions in so-called ‘performance fees’ to rail companies for ‘exceeding minimum service standards’.
In other words, do the bare minimum for maximum returns. This is the logic of capitalism: squeeze out as much profit by any means necessary.
The short-termism of the rail bosses has driven the rail network into the ground. Privatisation of the railways has clearly proved a disaster for both workers and passengers.
Despite dishing out huge dividends, payouts, and bonuses, these rail companies are completely unable to maintain a functioning network, never mind about improving the broken status quo.
In fact, the Tories recently ‘revealed’ that there would be no new funding for the railways. Without generous state handouts, however, in order to maintain their dividends and profits, the bosses will look to make further cuts to services and raise ticket prices even higher.
One way or another, it is clear that the ruling class is looking to make workers pay for the crisis.
To finally bring an end to this parasitic profiteering, the railways must be taken out of the hands of the capitalists.
Only by rationally running the railways – and the economy as a whole – can we bring an end to the chaos and misery faced by workers on a daily basis. This means nationalising the railways and placing them under democratic workers’ control and management.
Rail workers in the RMT, ASLEF, and TSSA are leading the fightback with coordinated strike action.
The RMT has rejected the bosses’ latest tokenistic offer, which fails to meet the union’s demands around jobs, pay, conditions, and safety. Consequently, further strike dates are planned for the run-up to Christmas (13, 14, 16, and 17 December) and the New Year (3, 4, 6, and 7 January).
To win, this struggle must be linked to the fight for a clear socialist alternative.
Running the rail network by the working class for the working class would rejuvenate the industry.
As part of a socialist planned economy, not only would the trains run on time, but mass investment could be undertaken in order to improve pay and conditions for rail workers, and to provide affordable, reliable, and modern public transport for all.
- Victory to striking rail workers!
- Fight for public ownership and workers’ control of the rail industry!
- Kick capitalism off our railways!