NOR4NOR has recently published the first draft of the NOR4NOR Charter. The charter is a vision for how we want the railways to look in the future, both nationally and locally.
The charter focuses on realistic and achievable, yet radical reforms for the railway, under the banner of a nationalised railway, partly owned by both passengers and workers to safeguard against political meddling.
Our boldest element of the charter our desire to see the creation of a 'National Transport Service' designed to provide a vehicle to unify all forms of public transport in the UK under one public interest driven body, with a sole aim to deliver a transport revolution, fit for the next century which can eventually provide public transport that is free at the point of use, recognising that utilitarian transport systems are essential to meet the needs of both a growing population and a desire to combat the encroaching threat of catastrophic climate change.
We do not advocate a plan to return to something resembling British Rail, which was a top down monolithic operation. Instead, we want to see elements of worker and passenger ownership, combined with the ‘white noise’ of technology, where technology is used within specific parameters to make operations slicker whilst retaining and increasing levels of staff on trains and at stations to make our railway system human and accessible to all.
The critics of our charter will be quick to call us fantasists. We are dreamers. We dream of a better country, of a fairer world where co-operation trumps competition and social need, rather than economic greed dictates policy direction. This is our vision, our manifesto to inform national politics which can help to bring about this dream.
In the words of the former British Rail General Manager Gerald Finnes, "Everytime you change the railway, it bleeds". Political meddling from both sides of the house has harmed efforts to stabilise structures within the railways throughout state and private operation. As a result, we regularly see botched franchise bids and reorganisations within Network Rail at regular opportunities. We want to put those who work on the railways, particularly front line workers and those who manage them much more power to make decisions about the organisation and operation of the railway, giving them a percentage of legal ownership for the duration of their employment. Let's bin off the shareholders who take the cream off the milk for no reason other than already having wealth and keep those dividends within the system to pay for upgrades, improved services, cheaper fares and improved working terms and conditions for workers.
For too long passengers have had no legal voice or serious means to hold to account successive rail operators outside of passenger groups, which vary from route to route, especially with regards to rail fare rises ahead of the rate of inflation. So we also want to see annual season ticket holders given legal rights. For anyone paying over thousands for an annual ticket, the right to hold operators to account is vital.
All elements of ticketing require great reform. Twenty years of privatisation have seen greedy operators gobbling away at the period at which 'off peak' tickets apply to maximise profits. Both regulated and unregulated fares have risen drastically, faster than the cost of living and inflation. We want immediate fare regulation imposed upon private operators with a medium term plan to greatly simplify fare structures with standard nationwide costs based on distance, with a long term plan to abolish fares, especially on short distance rail travel in cities and between ajoining rural towns. Stories of ticket machines overcharging are commonplace. This highlights the need for stations to be adequately staffed stations and trains, where a friendly face can sell you the reasonably priced ticket you need, not an extortionate fare leaving you bankrupt.
We also recognise the need of the bicycle in providing a comprehensive and sustainable transport system so want to see the introduction of legal standards to control the minimum number of spaces. The trend throughout privatisation has been to reduce the number of bicycle spaces on trains, removing reservations and guarantees to be able to arrive at any railway station, at any time of the day and be able to take your bicycles on the train. Encouraging bicycles on trains is a simple way to reduce car use to and from stations. Unification of the railway network is the only solution to allowing easy long distance travel with a bicycle. The current process to take a bicycle on long distance train journeys covering multiple operators is extremely difficult.
Locally, we are launching a campaign to radically alter rail transport in and out of Norwich with long overdue investment in Norfolk rail services to deliver a local transport network that aims to obliterate car use between rail served towns and cities in the county through faster and more regular rail services.
Our Yarmouth Lowestoft 20:25 campaign, which pushes for half hourly services and reductions in journey times to Yarmouth to 20 minutes and Lowestoft in 25 minutes sets the tone of how we see rail operating in Norfolk in the future. We want similar capacity and linespeed enhancements on the Cromer/Sheringham branch and Ely/Cambridge routes to make rail travel a reliable and viable alternative to road transport. This also includes half hourly services and an extension in services from Norwich to Cambridge to Norwich to Stanstead Airport. We argue that these local upgrades should be prioritised over the London-centric ‘Norwich in 90’ campaign which completely ignores the spectre of faster rail travel to Norwich pushing up the cost of living for all in the city and local investment. We want to set in motion regional growth before feeding the London bubble.
With the exception of a small amount of aggregate traffic to Norwich, rail freight in Norfolk has all but ceased. Almost everything in our county arrives by road. We want to do everything we can to encourage more rail freight and remove HGVs from our roads. We are formulating a dedicated rail freight charter to provide greater detail on what is required to revolutionise this sector.
This Charter is by no means a fixed concept. We will update it and add to it as we move forward with our campaign. We welcome comment and feedback. One of the best ways you can inform our campaign is to complete our passenger survey. Download a poster here.