“The environmental imperative to invest strategically in rail as the central nervous system of our transport networks is obvious. Transport is the largest single source of UK carbon emissions and it has barely declined in the last decade, as car manufacturers have boosted petrol guzzling SUV models.”
By Paul Atkin
The RMT are quite clear about their vision for the future. “We want a transport system that operates for the interests of the people, for the needs of society, and our environment – not for private profit”.
It’s clear from the recent TUC Report on the future of rail funding that the government has the opposite approach. It subordinates the interests of the people, the needs of society and our environment, to the opportunities for rail to be plundered for private profit; even at the expense of the medium-term viability of the industry. That is, of course, not a sectoral approach, but what they think society is for and is applied to climate breakdown too: making Keyne’s crack that “in the long term we are all dead” a much more immediate prospect.
The £4 billion cuts in rail running costs being demanded by Grant Shapps and the government in the current funding period amounts to around 10% a year. This is characterised by the TUC Report as imposing a regime of “managed decline”: risking “a vicious spiral where reduced maintenance and declining services drive lower and lower ticket sales further shrinking the budget for investment. Meanwhile the shift to higher carbon modes of transport becomes permanent”.
This is the opposite of what we need.
The environmental imperative to invest strategically in rail as the central nervous system of our transport networks is obvious. Transport is the largest single source of UK carbon emissions and it has barely declined in the last decade, as car manufacturers have boosted petrol guzzling SUV models, again putting profitability before any other consideration. This is criminal behaviour. We need a serious, planned shift away from aircraft and cars to all forms of public transport for long and short trips, walking and cycling for local.
The figures for this are very clear:
- Carbon emissions from short haul flights are eight times that of the equivalent journey by train. And the impact of these emissions is tripled by being spewed out at high altitude. We need cheaper train fares for these journeys and a tax on frequent flyers.
- Anyone who commutes by car faces increasingly expensive fuel costs; that will stay high at least as long as the war in Ukraine and its attendant sanctions continue. Commuting by car generates around four times as much carbon emissions as the same journey by train or tram, creates congestion and pollution.
- As an alternative, we need scrappage schemes that trade in cars for free travel cards to last a number of years. We need strategically subsidised fares. In Berlin this summer you can get a month’s travel card for 9 Euros. By contrast, a Greater Manchester Plus Bus ticket will set you back £55, a London all zones TFL monthly pass is £270 – and the government want to force it up even higher.
This is also about democracy and the prospect for working people having any say or influence over what kind of transition we have, or even if we have it.
Furthermore, Grant Shapps has said: “If this dispute cannot be resolved, the government will look at a full range of options to stop the unions hurting the general public, including repealing the ban on transferable staff filling in for striking workers.” This means legalising strike breaking and squeezing further the legal framework for workers – any workers – to defend themselves from attacks designed to transfer wealth upwards by increasing exploitation – more work for less pay. So much for “levelling up” and a “high wage economy”.
The context of this is the climate crisis in which the excess consumption of the top 10% – the beneficiaries of increased profits – will push us beyond 1.5C by 2030; even though the rest of us are on target.
Yet again, Government policy favours the unsustainable lifestyles of the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
To stop the government hurting the general public even further, we should look at, and implement, the full range of options to give the rail workers support and support the recommendations for rail investment proposed by the TUC.
Specifically, Government should:
• increase funding to Network Rail and scrap the requirement for so-called efficiency savings.
• formally recognise the railways as an essential public service, to be run on a non-commercial basis where there are clear social, economic and environmental reasons to do so.
• commit to integrating all train services not devolved to regional authorities via a single operator, uniting track and train under public ownership.
• finance upgrades, including electrification and new lines, to significantly displace passenger miles travelled by car, in line with the UK’s climate leadership ambitions.
• bring all outsourced services back in-house.
• bring into public ownership Rolling Stock Companies (ROSCOs) – and measures should be taken to improve public capacity in fleet maintenance and manufacturing.
- Paul Atkin is the editor of the Greener Jobs Alliance Newsletter – sign up and find out more here.