THE CHAIRMAN of Bromsgrove Rail User Group gave a mixed response to claims by the TUC which has likened the amount of cash paid to railway operator shareholders in the West Midlands in last five years to ‘the Great Train Robbery’.
The union says dividends totalling £51million had gone to shareholders between 2013 and 2018 – the sum taken in the Great Train Robbery in 1963, one of the biggest thefts in UK history, would be worth £53million in today’s money.
Tony Woodward from BRUG said his group was non-political and added: “BRUG would suggest that neither total privatisation, nor total re-nationalisation in their currently apparent guises can universally be considered to be the all-encompassing answer and where cross franchise service integration and direct competition across ticket pricing, appears almost non-existent.
“Whatever one’s view regarding how this vital element of the UK’s public transport operations should be run, the current outcome remains apparent, that it is the UK citizen that is increasingly having pay a heavy price (to someone) for our more than vital travel need in an ever-demanding world where we are urged to leave our cars at home in helping to save our planet.”
The UK railway passenger and freight operations were privatised between 1994 and 1997, resulting in 25 passenger and two freight companies being created, with the passenger operations re-bid for by interested operating companies towards the end of each varying franchise period.
Mr Woodward said the system had so far had limited success.
He added what had finally been seen by all political parties (which he felt the Government commissioned Williams Review would confirm), was the current model was not fit for purpose.
TUC Midlands Regional Secretary Lee Barron said it was appalling shareholders were taking millions of pounds out of Midlands rail routes while commuters were ‘stuck with over-crowded and unreliable trains’.
“This modern-day train robbery is working against the needs of our region.
“The funds should be invested to make it easier and cheaper to travel, instead of lining shareholder pockets.”
West Midlands Railway, which took over the region’s franchise in December 2017 from the now defunct London Midland, declined to comment on the comparison and figures.
But a spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the operators, said: “Private sector investment in the railway is at a record high with billions of pounds being spent to replace half the nation’s trains new for old by 2025.
“There is more to do but the railway has improved significantly since franchising was introduced with passengers growing at five times the rate compared to under British Rail.
“This is generating more money to reduce costs for taxpayers, with operators paying £2.4bn back to government over the last five years to enable investment in a better railway.”
Mr Woodward questioned where – when the annual fare increase figures came into force (a 2.7 per cent increase in January) – the extra ticket revenue went?
“If we believe the train operators’ representative voice ‘The Rail Delivery Group’, 98 per cent of the fare goes back into improving the UK railway, which then begs the question, as to how the substantial dividend payment to shareholders can possible be generated from the remaining two per cent of the fare revenue and also cover all other operational outgoings.
“Or are some or all of the said requirements covered by way of the substantial subsides paid to franchise holders from the public purse, ie by the UK taxpayer?”