MANY people in Wales would have been pleased during the general election when the Labour Party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, set out policies to bring about a phased renationalisation of the network as the private companies’ franchises expire.
There are currently 26 train operating companies and most of the existing franchises expire at different times so the process of renationalisation will take many years even under Labour’s plans.
While bringing the rail operators back into public ownership could be years away, what about the rail network, the infrastructure and who currently owns it?
Network Rail, as a public-sector arm’s length body, retains the commercial and operational freedom to manage Britain’s railway infrastructure in England, Wales and Scotland within regulatory and control frameworks.
Its board of directors is responsible to the Secretary of State for Transport and its chair seeks to ensure its policies and actions support the wider strategic policies of the Transport Secretary and Scottish ministers. It is subject to independent regulation by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
As a not-for-dividend organisation, Network Rail doesn’t pay out dividends to shareholders. Instead, any profits it makes are invested straight back into improving the railway.
While Network Rail owns the rail stations and manages 18 of the biggest and busiest stations; most are operated by the train operating companies. In Wales and for some in the borders these are operated by Arriva Trains.
Network Rail doesn’t
- Own or run passenger trains — this is the remit of train operating companies
- Own or run freight trains — this is the remit of train operating companies
- Set ticket prices — this is also done by the train operating companies, subject to government policy on regulated fares such as season tickets.
Currently there is only one privately owned railway station and that’s at Southend Airport which is managed by Stobart Rail (Stobart Aviation runs the airport), but the trains are operated by Abellio Greater Anglia.
Given the complexities of the privatised rail network and the Labour manifesto commitment, many find it strange that Cardiff South and Penarth Labour MP Stephen Doughty has agreed with a proposal to create Wales’s first privately owned railway station — provisionally named Cardiff Parkway — which has been welcomed by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
Doughty said that south Wales needs new stations to make the most out of rail electrification.
He added that the proposals to build the station in east Cardiff were “backed by the private sector, backed cross-party, backed by the Welsh government, backed by Cardiff council.”
At the same time, the Tory Transport Secretary said that it would not need quite the same system of approval as stations seeking public funding.
Grayling said: “I’m very happy to see that project go ahead.
“A private-sector-funded project? I can see no reason why any of us would do anything else except want to support it if it’s practical to do it,” he added.