National Fail: A disaster on the railways

Denton and Reddish Parliamentary Candidate, Nicholas Koopman, on why we should renationalise the railways

It is just over twenty years since THAT fateful decision: the 1993 Railways Act privatised British Rail and replaced it with National Rail. John Major’s government promised much for the commuter: more flexibility, reduced fares, improved investment, and greater efficiency. All this would be brought about, he argued, through increasing competition with the introduction of the franchise system, allowing the Conservatives to sell off another state asset in their quest for a minimal state.

Fast forward twenty years and the picture is in diametric opposition to that Major envisioned: fares have increased dramatically for certain tickets, standard single tickets being a good example, and the overall cost of maintaining the railways has almost doubled.

Multiple private monopolies have replaced the government run system. These are put out to tender, at considerable cost to the taxpayer, and often to foreign governments. The ‘winner’ is awarded the contract for up to fifteen years, which means that there is limited competition between those tendering thus no internal pressure on prices. Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money subsidise these companies in order to merely to provide a basic service. This is well evidenced in the case of Northern Rail, who collected £707 million subsidy and premium.

Wait, I hear you say, surely with the increased fairs and subsidy there must be improved investment? Well, although some development has taken place, it hasn’t been enough to satisfy demand. Trains are dangerously overcrowded; there is often little chance of obtaining a seat on peak journeys on trains more suited to the railway system of the 1970s than the 21st Century. The Hadfield crash, in 2000, uncovered the lack of investment in the railways infrastructure by Railtrack, which has now been taken back under state control.

An over-crowded commuter train leaving Ashton

An over-crowded commuter train leaving Ashton

The most galling aspect of our current aspect of our ‘franchised’ privatised rail system is the involvement of the foreign state control of our railways: three quarters of our railways are now in ‘foreign’ hands: three quarters! This means that shareholder profits from ‘our’ railways go into improving or reducing fares for citizens in other countries such as Germany or the Netherlands.

Is there a better way? We have a system that is already operating and returning more than two hundred million pounds to the treasury: the state operated East Coast mainline. Moreover, this state owned service received substantially less in subsidies; more people travelling; and increases across all levels of customer satisfaction. This proves that state owned railways can be efficient even when they are ‘the people’s railways’.

Yet, despite all this evidence, this Conservative Government plans to rush through a re-privatisation before the next election: one has to ask why, when it isn’t to increase efficiency or save money.

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The Green Party proposes that public ownership of the railways would not only enhance our current infrastructure, but would also save one billion pounds a year of taxpayers’ money. Savings can then be invested in improved additional stock and the railway infrastructure, improving the service for passengers and reducing the overcrowding, thereby encouraging more people to travel on public transport. It would also mean the end of inflation busting prices rises for commuters while shareholders take increasingly more profits. What is more, this could be done at very little cost to the taxpayer: unlike Labour’s proposed plan of state bids for franchises. Current franchises could be taken under into public hands as they expire.

The time has come for another approach: the ‘people’s railway’ must return.

For full Green Party transport policy, click here

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Use Your Vote to Keep Tameside Frack Free

Jenny Ross on the dirty industry that threatens our beautiful hills

Hydraulic Fracturing – the process of extracting gas from wells drilled deep below the earth by administering a highly pressurised mix of water, sand and up to 600 chemicals – may seem a long way away for the electorate, but Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Stalybridge and Hyde, Jenny Ross, says Tameside locals should vote to protect themselves from this controversial form of extreme energy gathering because our entire area is currently being offered up for license.

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95 out of a potential 295 bids have come in to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but they won’t release details of where until after the general election,” says Jenny, “So if the people of Tameside don’t vote for a party that opposes fracking, the world’s worst lottery scenario – where our houses lose 70% of their value, our families’ health is put at risk, and our entire area is blighted, could apply to us.”

Last month a report from Medact, backed by leading UK doctors and public health academics, advised a nationwide prohibition on fracking – a process which remains hugely unpopular with the electorate. 76% of people oppose fracking, according to a Department of Energy and Climate Change survey, and the Infrastructure Bill’s removal of peoples’ right to oppose fracking under their homes, has cemented public dissent.

The Green Party are the only party who oppose fracking. That’s the only sensible decision to take when health evidence from the USA and Australia makes it abundantly clear fracking isn’t safe,” states Jenny.

The pro-fracking Conservative party have been strongly criticised for their close relationship with industry bosses, whilst Labour support a regulated industry – despite the fact their regulations to demand mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments and no fracking on controlled water zones were watered down in the House of Lords, leaving campaigners concerned over UK aquifer supply and integrity.

There is lower Boland shale in Tameside,” says Jenny. “However, I think it’s much more likely we will see fracking to develop Coal Bed Methane as our area is littered with old mine seams and CBM is in TMBC’s local plan.”

Coal Bed Methane extraction – known as Coal Seam Gas (CSG) in Australia – has caused earthquakes and air and water pollution in the rural outback, provoking huge nationwide protests.

The problems we’ve seen in Australia and the US would be magnified here on our highly populated island. These developments aren’t just one well: a production zone could have up to 30 wells on, each taking up 5km square. They have 24/7 drilling licenses, flaring radioactive gasses through the night, compressor stations, thousands of movements of 300,000 litre tankers clogging up and damaging our roads. Furthermore, each frack takes between 20,000-50,000 cubic meters of water per well. Where on earth do we find that amount of water when every summer we get a hosepipe ban for wanting to hydrate the marigolds? And how do we replace it when the water is rendered toxic and radioactive during the process?” asks Jenny.

Parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee have advised the House of Commons that even if shale and CBM are developed in the UK, our carbon budget would not allow for their burning, and industry insider’s have already admitted the gas will not be cheaper.

Jenny MC-ing the People's Climate March in Manchester, 2014

Jenny MC-ing the People’s Climate March in Manchester, 2014

Continuing to invest in fracking is stifling investment in affordable renewable energy that the people of this country so desperately need,” says Jenny. “1-in-4 households in the UK are now living in fuel poverty. It’s time to roll out renewables creating 1,000,000 new jobs in the process and supplying the people of the UK with clean energy that won’t cost the earth.”

If you don’t want to see fracking developed in Tameside, sign our petition here

Vote for a Safe Climate

A Vote for the Green Party is a Vote for the Future

In honour of Earth Day, our candidate for Stalybridge and Hyde, Jenny Ross, has put together a small film about how the Green Party offer a solution for a safe climate.

As all other political parties, rush to develop another fossil fuel market in fracking for shale gas and Coal Bed Methane, the Greens have a vision for renewable energy that will free us from the profiteering of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies, create 1 million new jobs and provide clean energy that will return profits locally and won’t cost us our earth.

With the entire area of Tameside currently up for license for fracking and with Coal Bed Methane extraction in Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council’s local plan, it is important we vote to protect ourselves from this dirty industry that won’t bring jobs but will threaten our health, house prices and water.