The prospect of large sections of the rail industry being brought back into a form of public ownership has been raised by Michael Dugher, the shadow transport secretary.

In his first extended remarks since he was given the job by Ed Miliband, Dugher said he wanted “to do far more to make some really big changes”.

He said: “I’m adamant that the public sector will be running sections of our rail network as soon as we can do that. I’m also adamant about putting the whole franchising system, as it stands today, in the bin. We’re going to have a proper review, we’re going to rip up the old model of franchising and I want to see more public control in terms of the running of the railways.”

He also promised to get rid of the Rail Delivery Group, the body that brings together the train operating companies, the freight companies and Network Rail, describing the group as “a cosy stitch-up”. He vowed that there would be “a passenger voice instead right at the heart of the railways”.

His remarks in an interview with the New Statesman mark a hardening of tone from his predecessor Mary Creagh, who was shifted to the international development portfolio in November.

Dugher said: “We’re talking about reviewing franchising, full stop. I think it’s time to rip up franchising as it stands today. I don’t think it’s been a success and I think we’ve got to take a very big look across the piece. But I also want to see, and I’m going to be honest and proud about this, I want there to be more public control of the railways and we should just say it because actually that’s what the public think as well.”

Dugher, like Creagh, said he would like to see a public sector operator be able to bid for franchises alongside the private sector. The terms on which they were allowed to compete would be critical.

He added: “We’ve talked about how the only people who have no voice at the moment in the running of the railways are the travelling public, the passengers themselves.

“What you have at the moment is something that’s rather ironically named the Rail Delivery Group, which is basically Network Rail and the private companies, the TOCs [train operating company] and the freight, and they get together and they stitch up the running of the railways and they do it with our money.

“Network Rail’s on our books, huge taxpayer subsidies and investment going into the railways, but the industry want to stitch it up themselves and we’re not having that anymore.

“I’m not saying let’s go back to some sort of 70s and 80s British Rail – I don’t think sensible people are, actually. But I think we’ve got to make the starting point that privatisation was a mess; it was botched, and what you’ve found is, in a sort of piecemeal way, little changes were made, often in response to horrendous events – whether it was Hatfield and rail maintenance coming back in-house, or RailTrack imploding and Network Rail being set up, Network Rail now being on our books.

“We are dealing with the consequences of one of the worst decisions that any government has made. I think you can do far more to make some really big changes and that’s why I’m talking about a public sector operator.”

He also put himself on a collision course with Stagecoach, the bus operator. “Every time you get one of the boneheads at Stagecoach attacking Labour’s policy for wanting to regulate the buses, that’s every day they put Labour’s policy out there and that’s every day which gives us an opportunity to win the election because we can win this argument.”

He poured scorn on the prospect of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, saying he did not foresee a hung parliament after the election and that he was relishing the prospect of Labour defeating Nick Clegg.

“I don’t really regard beating Nick Clegg as work. It’s something you’d happily do on your day off – this is the Lord’s work. I think we should get after the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg. I’ve felt that even when there were people, misguided people on our own side, who felt that we should be cosying up to the Lib Dems, going back over a number of years.

“I was always one of the people saying you’ve got to take on the Lib Dems and you’ve got to beat them.”



Captcha image