For a People's Railway Summit "Inspirational"
The NOR4NOR summit in April 2019 was a landmark attempt to put railway workers and passengers at the heart of a strategy for a Peoples’ Railway.
It was, we hope, the first in a series of regional conferences designed to develop local plans, campaigns and other initiatives that can be fed into a national plan for public transport. In what has been described as ‘an inspirational day’, plenary and workshop speakers outlined policies, described the scope of the changes needed and offered expertise on rail issues. In other words, both practical approaches and the vision that is needed to achieve a new public-owned railway. The centrepiece of the summit was the six workshops in which people were able to voice their opinions, ideas and blueprints for a new railway system. This was a rare opportunity for railway workers, passengers, and local group and party members to discuss public transport and a huge torrent of ideas emerged. Democratic popular planning at its best!
Rachael Maskell MP for York and Shadow Rail Minister, explained Labour’s policy direction with a strategy based on government intervention over a 40 year, not a 5 year cycle. This would include a new ticketing model, an electrification programme, investment and freight onto rail. She stressed that this had to be part of a broader plan to tackle climate change involving a fully accessible system, an emphasis on walking and cycling and free municipal travel for pensioners and under-25s. Rachael also focused on the involvement of trade unions, passenger co-ops and local authorities in this process.
Nadine Rae, the director of Equal Opportunities at the TSSA argued that there was an urgent need to develop skills on the railways with an average workforce age of 57 years old. Changing technology also meant that unions had to be more prepared and the quality/diversity agenda was key with the TSSA launching an LGTB+ initiative in 2018.
David Raby, Norwich Green party councillor, called for an accessible and sustainable railway with future funding based on the ‘polluters paying’ principle. The local was key in creating integrated transport in cities like Norwich which had had a tram system until 1935 and which needed to be part of future transport policy in the city, particularly as the Green party had been arguing for a more forthright response to climate change for decades.
Clive Lewis MP for Norwich South, who is championing sustainable economics, put railways at the heart of the climate change challenge and the need to reduce emissions by 80% in the next 10 years. He commented on the Green New Deal and reiterated the need for urgent action.
Kam Gill, TUC Transport officer, underlined the complete failure of rail privatisation to deliver its promises - instead there had been higher fares, chronic staff shortages, a chaotic ticketing system, only 42% of rail electrified and from 1995 to 2018 and a massive £320m wasted on franchising.
A Network Rail worker & RMT member commented on the fact that workers were under constant attack and that the companies were trying to make cuts in ticket office staff, in rolling stock maintenance and by the removal of guards, resulting in some cases in 40 days of strike action with Southern still in dispute. Guards had had success on Abellio Scotrail, South West Trains, Northern Rail and Abellio Greater Anglia. He noted that the Williams Review had ruled out renationalisation despite acknowledging its flaws. He also recalled Bob Crow's call for a Peoples' Railway.
Each workshop was asked to contribute ideas towards a NOR4NOR statment, to expand the NOR4NOR charter with achievable, direct objectives:
1. We support the building of a national network/campaign involving rail workers and passengers.
2. We believe that a unified public-owned railway would contribute to the task of stopping climate change.
3. We call on a Labour government to learn from local/regional campaigns and forums.
4. We call for a national rail commission drawn from trade unions, passengers and local authorities to draft plans for both national and regional rail systems on a variety of forms of ownership. This to act as an advisory body in the planning of railways.
5. We support the setting up of training packages and training schools and the new post of ‘Railway Education Rep’ who will obtain time off to arrange state-funded training for railway workers and railway managers in the running of a publicly-owned railway.