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    Expert on UK Railways: Franchising Not Working But Open Access Could Be Worse

    © AFP 2019 / WILL OLIVER
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    Ellen Lees, the Campaigns Officer at We Own It, explained what should be done to restore trust in commuters and users of Britain’s railways.

    Following the publication of a new opinion poll in UK, fewer than one in three people support proposals for increased competition on the railways. Various groups have stated that more competing operators would improve the service.

    Sputnik: Following the publication of a new opinion poll, fewer than one in three people support proposals for increased competition on the railways. How significant is this and is more competition needed in Britain’s rail network?

    Ellen Lees: This is a really important poll to come out of this time, because the William's rail review is coming to the end of its consultation period. We've only got a few days left to influence Keith Williams decision and the private rail companies have been lobbying hard for open access for increasing competition, which will be a complete disaster for the railways. Everyone agrees that franchising is not working but open access could possibly even be worse. The chaos and the confusion that we have with all the different ticket options at the moment would get much worse. If you introduce direct competition on the same rail lines, you have more companies trying to compete to provide a service in a smaller space.

    If you think about all the time and money that's currently wasted on companies trying to blame each other for delays, so that they don't have to pay competition, or failing to communicate with each other, and with Network Rail and causing this inefficiency and fragmentation on the service, that is only going to get worse. Keith keeps hearing from the private real companies but he needs to hear from the public as well, because the public absolutely overwhelmingly prefer public ownership to this idea of increased competition. We've got a few days left until the end of the consultation periods so now is the perfect time for people to be pushing him to recommend public ownership in this review.

    Sputnik: Trust in the railway has fallen in recent times, particularly after the disruption which followed the introduction of new timetables in May last year, with more people believing that the privatized operators have don’t necessarily have ‘their best interests at heart’. What do we need to see from these operators to restore trust in commuters and users of Britain’s railways?

    Ellen Lees: Yeah, I think it's not really surprising that people don't feel like private train operating companies have their best interests at heart. When you have private companies making a profit out of a public service, you're always going to have this feeling that the company is prioritizing making a profit, over providing a good service, and the company will make decisions based on whether they'll be able to make a profit rather than whether this is the best decision for passengers or the wider community. So it makes total sense. I think the only way to really make sure that people trust the railways and make sure that they get a good service, is that we prioritize passengers over profit, and we bring the railway into public ownership and make it accountable so that passengers really get to have their voice heard.

    Sputnik: On a final note, after the end of the consultation, which is going on and looking at how railway networks in Britain operate, what's next for you and your group going forwards?

    Ellen Lees: So immediately what we want is to hand in a petition to Keith before the end of the consultation. So we've got a few days left to get as many signatures on this petition, which you can find on the homepage of our website — and we want to make this as big as possible. After that, we will be watching and waiting to see what Keith recommends in his review and we will make sure that we can respond to that when that comes out possibly in the autumn.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Related:

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