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by Matt Trinder
SCOTLAND should follow the Welsh government’s example and bring railways back under public ownership immediately, Labour and rail unions demanded today.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is running a consultation on the future of the failing Abellio ScotRail franchise as passenger numbers plummet due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with taxpayers’ money propping up the company in the mean time.
New subsidiary Transport for Wales took over all services in Wales earlier this month after a Senedd decision to reverse privatisation in October.
This came as the RMT called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “just get on” with nationalising rail franchises in England after the union revealed ministers were making preparations that would allow them to take direct control of collapsing passenger-train franchises.
Scottish Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth said: “It’s clear that the SNP plans to prop up private rail firms with taxpayers’ money for some time to come.
“There is growing support for a publicly owned and run rail system that works puts passengers first, not the profits of private rail firms.
“It’s high time the SNP kicked the franchise system into touch and got on board.”
TSSA general secretary Manual Cortes questioned why the SNP was running an “expensive and wasteful rail franchise exercise” during a global pandemic.
“Passenger numbers on ScotRail are a fraction of their normal level,” he said. “No private operator is going to be able to turn a profit from ticket sales alone, so the only incentive to private operators would be the subsidy from the public purse.
“Why do that when the mechanism exists now to run the railways in the public sector for the public good?”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “There is no excuse at all for the SNP to drag their heels over bringing Scotland’s railways into public ownership.
“Wasting time and money on consultations is just a smokescreen for their inaction.
“[They] are bang out of excuses and they should get on with it.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson effectively nationalised rail franchises in England last March with emergency “recovery contracts” being introduced in September to keep railways running.
The RMT said changes made over the last week to the structure of government-owned shell companies was paving the way for them to formalise nationalisation and take over the South Western Railway, C2C, Cross Country and Great Western Railway franchises.
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