Member of rail union RMT, supported by Cardiff Trades Council, were campaigning outside Cardiff Central station today against fare increases and staff cuts. The union pointed out that while fares are going up services and safety are being cut.
The UK government has sanctioned fare rises of 3.3% to train fares in Wales which will hit travellers and further add to the fall in living standards. The 12 mile journey from Cardiff to Pontypridd will now cost an eye-watering £7.20 return, while the petrol for a car journey costs just £3. Fare rises are linked to CPI the highest calculation of inflation plus 1%.
The increase in fares will do nothing to relieve the appalling overcrowding on peak time trains, they will disappear into the pockets of the privately-owned train operating companies and to relieve the government’s deficit, helping the government give away tax cuts to big business. The run-down trains, poor service and dangerous conditions will continue.
The Tory government has cut the rail subsidy which has increased fares and encouraged the privately-owned train operating companies to cut staff putting passenger safety and comfort at risk. A number of companies are trying to introduce driver only operated (DOO) trains removing guards from trains altogether, which increases the companies’ profits while jeopardising passenger safety.
The government’s claim that it is investing in modernisation of the railways rings hollow in Wales having cancelled the electrification of the train lines to Swansea. There is no prospect of electrification of rail in the valley lines but the fares are going up there regardless. Most of the spending on modernisation is on the London Crossrail project and the HS2 project from London to the north of England.
The UK has the worst railway system in western Europe from which privately owned train operating companies make millions of pounds in profits even though they are subsidised by the government. The tracks and stations are run by the publicly-owned Network Rail after the collapse of privately-owned Railtrack. Jeremy Corbyn has promised to return the train operating companies to public ownership – although only when the franchises are up for renewal which could take many years.
In Wales the Welsh Labour government is not even going that far. The Arriva Wales franchise is up for renewal but instead of returning the service to public ownership Welsh Labour is putting the franchise back out to private tender. Although guards will be retained on the trains for now, the track and stations will actually be privatised by the Welsh government handing them over to the private train operating company that wins the franchise.
The railways are important to workers commuting to work and our communities but are being run down and the fare increases put rail travel beyond the budgets of many working class families. The railways – tracks, stations and trains – must be returned to public ownership and run efficiently for the benefit of us all, not for a tiny group of company executives like Richard Branson who have ruined the railways at our expense.