08:23 Monday 2nd March 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
DOTTY MCLEOD: A new private company has taken over the running of the East Coast Mainline. It of course goes through Peterborough. The route has been in public hands since 2009, but yesterday Virgin Trains took over the running of it. Our reporter Tom Horn has been there this morning, and he’s spoken to a few passengers.
PASSENGER ONE: I think the Government did a good job running it. Hopefully Virgin won’t put the prices up, run it as well as the Government did.
TOM HORN: What are the priorities for Virgin as far as you’re concerned?
PASSENGER ONE: Ideally it’s more services if possible, more seats. It’s always hard to get a seat in the rush hour from Peterborough to London.
TOM HORN: Overall you think Virgin has a relatively decent name of train travel elsewhere?
PASSENGER ONE: I do actually. I think they have a good name. I believe they also can be quite expensive. So I’m hoping they don’t change the prices much.
PASSENGER TWO: As long as the price stays the same and the service stays the same that’s fine. I was happy with it in public ownership before, and I believe it should have stayed that way personally. But there you go. The fact that it was owned by the public was good I think, because it should be a public service.
TOM HORN: Priorities for Virgin hopefully then?
PASSENGER TWO: Good service, be on time and don’t hike the prices to pay your shareholders. That’s my view.
PASSENGER THREE: Be nice to have a good commercial operation that tries to put the customers first rather than the staff, which I think East Coast was a bit about.
TOM HORN: What were your thoughts on the Government-run side of things for the last few years?
PASSENGER THREE: It was a bit like the old days of British Rail, staff looking after themselves, customers are irrelevant. Looking forward to Virgin. Should be a lot better.
TOM HORN: Priorities for Virgin you’d like to see?
PASSENGER THREE: On time and cheaper ideally. But on time first.
PASSENGER FOUR: Well I’ve been on Virgin before. I think they’ve .. I haven’t had no complaints about them. probably have to give it a few months and see what it’s like, and then complain at you later.
TOM HORN: What are the priorities for Virgin as far as you’re concerned?
PASSENGER FOUR: Mainly keeping them on time. If they’re going to promise you a train to come, you want it to be here don’t you really?
TOM HORN: You think it’s the right decision to put it back into private ownership? Because it was a decent job the Government did, running it as East Coast.
PASSENGER FOUR: I can’t see why it’s gone back private. As long as they don’t keep upping the fares for profit. That’s the main thing, isn’t it?
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well with me now is Rupert Read who is the Transport Spokesperson for the Green Party. Also happens to be their candidate for Cambridge at the upcoming General Election. Morning Rupert.
RUPERT READ: Morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Thanks for coming in. Your party has advocated renationalising the railway system. You’re hearing those people there who don’t really care who runs the trains, as long as they are on time and the fares don’t go up. Why does it matter to you?
RUPERT READ: Well all of those people except one actually said they wished it had stayed in public hands, and that of course is the overwhelmingly popular view, and for good reason. What we have in the railway system at present is a Balkanised railway system. It’s completely broken up. It’s not joined up.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What do you mean by Balkanised?
RUPERT READ: Broken up into little bits. Not a joined up system. So for example if someone’s travelling from somewhere in the South via Peterborough to somewhere in the West say, they have to change from one train operator to another. And those train operators have got no incentive to make that change a smooth one. They’ve actually got an incentive sometimes even to make the connection a bad one, because they’re in competition with other rail companies. What we want so see is a joined up railway system, run for the public interest, in the public good. If it’s back in public hands, that’s what it would be like.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And would it make money? Would it be sustainable?
RUPERT READ: Well of course what we saw with the East Coast Mainline being in public hands is it went from being loss making to being profit making. In other words it was actually paying the taxpayers back. And I think that shows very clearly the potential of a publicly owned railway system. I think it’s also important to be clear though that the railways are a public service, and it’s not just about making money. We need to make sure that we’re providing a good service for everybody. We need to make sure that we’re providing a strong alternative to road travel, because it’s really important for listeners who are perhaps in their cars right now to remember that investment in the railway system helps them too. Every person who takes the train, who’s not in a car, one less car on the road, one less bit of traffic. We need to think about this in an integrated joined up way, and that’s what the Green plan of a publicly owned joined up railway system would do.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What about that guy there who we heard talking to Tom who was saying you know when it was British Rail, passenger satisfaction was low, was rubbish? The staff only cared about themselves. They were just looking after themselves, waiting for their big gold plated civil service pension effectively. What about that argument?
RUPERT READ: Yes well it’s important to be clear that what we’re talking about is bringing the railways back into public hands. And what we mean by that is a stakeholder railway system. That means we want to see passengers and others such as those who work on the trains as well involved in the running of the trains. Not just for it to be run as a kind of state bureaucracy, but for passengers to have a big say in how it’s run. You could think of it as a kind of co-op railway system, if you will. And we think that running it like that, involving the public actively in the running of the railways, could be an exciting way of ensuring that that doesn’t happen, that we don’t repeat any of the bad features of the old days of BR.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. Isn’t that just going to mean that if I’m in Ely, I’m going to want great trains for Ely? I’m not really going to care about what trains are like in Peterborough. Isn’t it just going to be very very as you would say Balkanised with different interest groups?
RUPERT READ: Yes but Dotty the railways are as I said a joined up system, at least that’s what they should be. I think it’s in everybody’s interests to ensure that the trains run smoothly from one place to another, the connections run smoothly, that people who are travelling a short distance, people who are travelling a long distance, that everybody gets a good service. And I think that passengers have got lots of good ideas for how that should be. Whereas if we compare that to the present reality, we’ve got Virgin taking over East Coast Mainline here, Virgin, hugely hugely expensive prices on the West Coast Mainlines. Also I have to mention terrible stinky toilets on all their trains on the West Coast Mainline. Is that really what we want for the future? We think we can do better. We think that the involvement of the public running the railways as a public service is the way to go. And I’d like to add to that that it’s Green Party policy to reduce fares by 10% across the board, as part of that. And one of the ways of course that’s possible is if you don’t have the private companies involved, then you don’t need to pay those fat shareholders’ profits.
DOTTY MCLEOD: But surely you’re going to have to invest in the train system in order to do this. Is that investment in railways going to be at the cost of roads?
RUPERT READ: Yes. We think that it’s the wrong move to invest more heavily in roads at this time. What we ought to be doing is investing in trains, in buses, in cycling. We ought to be investing in sustainable transport, in the transport of the future. And that as I say is better for everybody, including those on the road, because if you build more roads you simply encourage more cars onto the road network, whereas if you invest in trains, then you’re actually taking cars off the road network, and you have a chance of reducing traffic lev els.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So if you like potholes, vote Green.
RUPERT READ: No no no. We’re fully in favour of having road surfaces that are absolutely top quality. That’s essential for car drivers and essential for cyclists. What we’re saying is don’t build new roads. Put that money instead into the railways. We want to expand the rail network, we want to do that quickly. For example the rail line to Oxford needs to be reopened as a priority, the Wisbech-March line, those kinds of investments in the future of the rail network, they could happen quickly if we put that money into rail now. That’s what we Greens would like to see.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Rupert, good to talk to you this morning. Thank you for coming in. Rupert Read there, the Transport Spokesperson for the Green Party. Also the candidate for Cambridge at the General Election as it approaches fast. What do you reckon? Does it make sense? Invest in the railways, not so much in the roads.