Senior figures from the UK’s leading transport unions, came together to discuss the future of the country’s railways, alongside newly appointed shadow transport secretary, Lillian Greenwood.
Setting out the party’s intentions for developing its transport policy, Ms Greenwood said: “We are going to set up a Labour taskforce after conference. We are going to be putting out a call for evidence.
“We are going to make it a really inclusive process. That is part of the new politics of listening to everybody.”
Aslef’s Mick Whelan urged Ms Greenwood to “be bold” in putting together an alternative plan for the railways, saying the public was crying out for change.
Mr Whelan added that Aslef “welcomes Jeremy Corbyn, obviously. We also welcome what he has said about the future for Labour policy on the railways.”
He suggested that privatisation had not delivered for passengers in terms of fares or quality.
Elaborating on this point, Ms Greenwood said: “We have seen a 25% increase in fares over the last five years, that is so much faster than people’s wages have been going up. Some season tickets have been going up as much as 35%. Privatisation simply isn’t delivering for passengers.”
Accusing the Government of being ideologically driven in their approach to rail franchising, Ms Greenwood cited the example of East Coast Trains, which operated successfully between 2009- 2015 but has since been replaced by a private provider.
The company, she said, had cut fares in real terms and delivered good quality service, adding: “It is shameful that that franchise has been put out to the private sector.”
Another area in which privatisation has been disappointing is in ensuring safety, according the TSSA’s Manuel Cortes.
“Labour has to be very clear that we are not in favour of the breakup of Network Rail. The last time we had profiteers running our infrastructure we had Hatfield and Potters Bar. No one should lose their lives because someone else is making a profit,” he said.
Adding further support to Labour’s new leader, Mr Cortes declared: “I am absolutely delighted and proud that we have a leader in Jeremy Corbyn who will not shy away form bringing the railways back to where they belong – into public ownership.”
Moving the discussion onto how the party can sell the idea of rail nationalisation to the electorate, Unite’s Diana Holland suggested that the public were unaware of the £4bn subsidy that supports the rail network.
Despite this she added, it had not “delivered a better railway,” and the public should be informed at the lack of value that were getting.
Mr Cortes echoed this, saying it was time to “expose” the current flawed model and make the positive case for change.
The RMT’s Mike Lynch agreed there needed to be a radical overhaul in the way the UK’s rail network was run, but cautioned against going back to a top-down, unresponsive management structure.
“We don’t want British Rail,” he said.
Describing how the EU could play its part in supporting change in the sector, MEP Lucy Anderson said she would work hard to secure amendments to legislation that was currently being considered in Brussels, so that the UK could “keep its options open.”
Concluding proceedings, Paul Nowack, Assistant General Secretary, TUC said: “This is an agenda that we have spent a long time campaigning on… we are now beginning to see the fruits of our labour.
“The public ownership of our railways makes economic sense and it makes electoral sense. There is a positive alternative that engages our communities, the workforce and delivers for taxpayers and service users alike.”