The nationalisation of the banks should be followed up by re-nationalising the railways, an MP has claimed.
Rob Marris (Lab Wolverhampton South West) called on the Government to take Britain’s rail services back into public ownership, following warnings that West Midland passengers faced more overcrowding in carriages.
The National Audit Office, the official financial watchdog, has published a report predicting that passengers can expert packed carriages and higher ticket prices. It highlighted the example of London Midland, which was given permission to carry more passengers on overcrowded trains when it took over its franchise last year.
The Department for Transport agreed to increase the number of commuters the firm could force to stand, by changing the definition of “full standing capacity” from 163 people to 191.
The change came in when Govia, the company behind London Midland, took over the franchise for services between London, Birmingham and Liverpool from Silverlink.
But the NAO warned that passengers on other services would also see services deteriorate when their franchises changed hands.
Mr Marris urged ministers to consider another option – and simply take over running the trains directly, when existing franchises come to a close. It would mean the West Coast Main Line would be taken into public control when Virgin’s franchise expires in 2012.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Marris said: “May I suggest that with the £15 billion of investment, and to try to increase rail line speeds and reduce train congestion, we should nationalise the railways, just as we are nationalising the banks, by not renewing the franchises as they fall due?
“Many of those franchises, just like the banks, are bankrupt and would not be operating except for huge Government subsidy. Let us move the railways back into state ownership. What are his views on that?”
Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon insisted the train operators had helped improve services. He said: “I am sorry that he takes that view of the contributions that have been made by train operating companies.”
Mr Hoon highlighted improvements he said had been made to the Midland Mainline, which runs from London to Sheffield via the east Midlands, stopping at Leicester.
He was challenged by Conservative Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers, who urged him back a new high speed rail line.
The Conservatives announced plans at their party conference in Birmingham for a high speed rail link between Manchester, Birmingham and London.
She said: “The Government’s response to congestion on the midland main line and the rest of the network is wholly inadequate and painfully slow”