A Strategy for Building a New East Anglian Railway
NOR4NOR has published a bold new Charter for the Railways which includes proposals at both national and regional levels. This Charter outlines a number of key policies and priorities that are, in our view, essential for a publicly owned system. At the same time, it does not seem that any detailed plans have been discussed at regional or local levels that outline what public ownership might look like or how this would be developed.
Given the negative bureaucratic experience of British Rail and the widespread use of public ownership of railways in Europe, it is important to begin a debate now in the run-up to a general election to ask many relevant questions:
How would regional/local democratic ownership function?
What is the role of the rail unions and rail workers?
Would regional services be partly or wholly run by local authorities or regional boards?
What role would individual passengers and passenger groups play in this structure?
Railway Trade Unions
The rail unions have a crucial role to play in the running of a new publicly owned railway. Clearly, they will have a collective bargaining role within the industry much like the present, but they could also be involved in the day to day running of the services in a way originally envisaged at the time of the post-war railway nationalisations of 1948. All the rail unions could, before public ownership, launch a training programmes for their local, regional and national representativess and branch officers, which would equip them with the tools to go out and convince their members of the need for railway workers to actively participate in renewing the railways.
This would ideally include training inpublic speaking, writing and publishing information, using social media, chairing sessions, lobbying and campaigning. This type of basic training would enable union reps to explain and encourage members to discuss public ownership and to become actively involved in preparing for it as well making contact with local trades councils, other union branches and local campaigns.
To effect this we would like to see the unions establish a training college or expand existing programmes in order to train reps and members in how to run the railways, covering topics including railway economics, the structures of a publicly-owned railway, ensuring accountability and public scrutiny, the history of railways, case studies of other nationalised systems and the types of ownership of other European nations.
One spin-off from the guards’ dispute is the enormous scope for the RMT to talk to the public about rail safety, an important breakthrough in terms of building local links with passenger groups, trades councils and other unions. This suggests that, before public ownership, all the rail unions can, through public meetings, speaking tours etc, make the argument for public ownership. When the railways are brought back into a unified system, there is also scope for building the case through each region having exhibitions at major stations showing the history of Britain's Railways with a scope upon the public/private ownership story.
Local Authorities and Regional Boards
If local councils/devolved governments are to be responsible for the railways, what new structures would be required to delegate their power in the best way possible? Regional rail boards could be set and/or co-operatives to run broadly on the lines of the current franchise boundaries. How would democratic control and scrutiny be carried out? How do we ensure that stations and trains are fully accessible and integrated with local bus/tram services? There is room for considerable flexibility at local level.
How would Network Rail and the regions be re-united? What role would passenger and campaigning groups play in these new structures and how would we ensure that their voices are heard? The involvement of rail experts and organisations like Bring Back British Rail and We Own It would be important. Regional shadow commissions could be set up in advance of public ownership in order to prepare for the transition.
Seven principles for good railway governance
A national ‘guiding mind’: with powers over the railway as a whole to provide strategic direction so that the entire railway functions in a unified way.
Cost-control: to efficiently deliver the services policymakers seek from the railway on behalf of the public, including due consideration of minimisation of profit exploitation.
Public accountability: to reflect the role of rail as a vital public service and the significant amounts of public money the railway receives
Regional powers: to give regions and devolved nations the ability to achieve rail services to meet regional needs, development possibilities and integration of rail services with other elements of the transport network
Arms-length managerial separation: to distinguish the role of railway professionals with day-to-day responsibility for managing rail operations from elected public representatives with a strategic responsibility for holding railway staff accountable
Responsiveness to passengers: to react to passenger perspectives on what would improve their train services, including affordability of fares
Collaboration with staff: to draw on the experience and expertise of staff and to maintain a body of high-quality high-performing railway employees.
From Options for Regional Rail (2013)