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Socialize the Railways!

By Tom Wetzel - East Bay Syndicalists, November 13, 2023

The downward slide of the major (Class 1) American freight railroads in recent years shows how capitalist ownership of the railway system is dangerous and inefficient — and fails to make use of the potential of the railways as a solution to the global warming crisis.

Downward slide has been accelerated over the past decade due to the adoption of “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR). This has no precise definition but the aim is to reduce costs. As in “lean production” management theory, any expense not directly needed for profit is regarded as “waste.” PSR is a cost-cutting strategy that puts short-term profits for stockholders as the controlling priority. To maximize the rate of return, the railroads cut corners on maintenance, constantly work to reduce the number of railroad employees, and actively discourage shipments that are less profitable for them to haul. To keep Wall Street investors happy, they work to maximize short term profit. To enrich stockholders, the rail companies have poured billions of dollars into stock buybacks rather than invest in system improvements.

Rail Privatisation: 30 years of waste and rising fares

By staff - National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), November 5, 2023

As Britain ‘celebrates’ 30 years of rail privatisation, RMT reveals that the three-decade debacle has seen at least £31 billion leak out of the system, mostly into shareholders pockets, while passengers are paying 8% more in real terms to travel on a deteriorating system.

  • Renationalising the railway and creating a single, integrated publicly owned railway company would save around £1.5 billion every year which could be used to cut fares by 18%, helping to encourage more people back onto Britain’s railways.
  • At least £1.5 billion and very likely more leaks out of Britain’s railways every year in the form of profits extracted by train operating companies, rolling stock leasing companies, subcontractors and other costs that arise the fragmentation of the railways.1 Throughout privatisation, the annual outflow of funds would have enabled, on average, a cut of 14% in fares (Table 1.)
  • If the railways were nationalised now and the flow of funds into the private sector was cut off, the money saved would fund a cut of 18% in fares.
  • The cost of travelling by rail is now almost 8% higher in real terms than it was in 1995, before privatisation. This figure has dropped in the last two years only as inflation as risen above 13%. Until the cost-of-living crisis, when fare increases were decoupled from RPI inflation, fares were consistently 15-20% higher in real terms than before privatisation.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Transportation Webinar: Where is This Train Going? Freight Rail in the Public Interest

Government's poor response on decarbonisation

By staff - ASLEF, June 20, 2023

In March, Parliament's Transport Select Committee produced a report of their recent inquiry Fuelling the Future, which was looking at ways to decarbonise transport.

The committee took evidence from stakeholders across the industry, including ASLEF (click here to read our submission), asking about the viability of future fuels from electrification to batteries and hydrogen.

The report found that the only realistic way to decarbonise the railway is to electrify as much as possible of the network. While there is the potential for hydrogen and batteries to fill gaps, electrification remains the only way to power heavy freight and high-speed passenger services. 

This is not the first report that has come to the conclusion that rail electrification is essential for decarbonising the railway.

ASLEF has repeatedly called for the full electrification of the railway, through a rolling programme which would allow supply chains and project teams to be continually employed and therefore save money and retain institutional knowledge.

After publishing the final report of the inquiry the committee received a response from the UK government. Unfortunately the government did not commit to moving forward with some of the most important recommendations.

There was, for example, no full commitment to rail electrification, let alone a plan to do this. In addition the government stated that it would be running diesel trains on the new 'East-West Rail' line between Oxford and Cambridge. This is a new line which should obviously have been electrified from the beginning.

The Conservative MP who chairs the committee, Iain Stewart, commented:

“My colleagues also urged government to stay committed to electrifying railway lines, or introducing alternative low-carbon motive power where full electrification is not viable, so that we can look forward to the day that vast swathes of the country are free of diesel-guzzling trains. We want to see a long-term strategy with costings, milestones and a credible delivery plan. The Government’s response indicates there is still some way to go before they will be ready to put pen to paper on a detailed plan."

This indictment of the government's inaction from a member of their own party is in line with what ASLEF has been saying for many years. This is a government without a plan, without a strategy, and without the ability to deliver.

Building alliances between Labour and the Climate Justice movements

Storytelling on the Road to Socialism: Episode 10: A Trackman Speaks

Daniel Randall RMT at the XRTU Hub, The Big One

THE ROAD TO TRANSIT EQUITY: The Case for Universal Fareless Transit in Los Angeles

By Chelsea Kirk, et. al. - Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and Alliance for Community Transit Los Angeles (ACT-LA), May 2023

Los Angeles is a place like no other, and that is especially true when it comes to public transportation. Its primary public transit agency, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (LA Metro), is one of the largest in the nation, with nearly one-fourth of California residents living in the agency’s 1,433-square-mile service area.

But LA Metro currently serves very few Angelenos—just 78 out of every 1,000 Los Angeles– area residents ride the bus or train. The majority of public transit riders in Los Angeles are low-income people of color who are financially burdened by the region’s high housing and transportation costs. Seventy-six percent of LA Metro ridership identifies as Latinx or Black, and approximately 63% of riders earn household incomes of less than $25,000 annually, with 40% subsisting on household incomes under $15,000 per year.

Additionally, LA Metro, unlike most public transit agencies in large U.S. cities, nets very little revenue from fares. Government grants and sales taxes mostly fund the agency’s operations and capital expenses, with fares projected to make up just 4.8% of the agency’s operations budget in fiscal year 2023. LA Metro has attempted to solve the financial burden of fares on their riders through fare capping and means-tested discount programs. These initiatives are not only expensive to run, but they also have low enrollment rates. And, ironically, if LA Metro successfully enrolled all those eligible for discounts, their earnings from fares would be even more negligible than they are now. In effect, the agency is spending millions of dollars to get the majority of its riders to pay less in fares. Why not just go fareless?

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Stop the Cumbria Coal Mine: XRTU at The Big One

XRTU HUB at The Big One: Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group

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