Railways & the election: where the parties stand
All the UK mainland parties have now published their 2017 general election manifestos. The three main parties support HS2; only Labour and the Greens back nationalisation; only Labour and the Lib Dems advocate shifting freight from road to rail.
This is what the parties have to offer:
Conservatives: Tory transport plans take up just six (short) paragraphs and occupy half a page of the manifesto. The party is committed to HS2, the Northern Powerhouse, but no other major schemes – e.g. Crossrail 2 – are mentioned. The rest contains nothing specific and is fairly general:
“We will focus on creating extra capacity on the railways, which will ease overcrowding,bring new lines and stations, and improve existing routes – including for freight. We will increase services on our main lines and commuter routes, and launch new services to places which are poorly served or host major new housing projects.
“We will continue to support local authorities to expand cycle networks and upgrade facilities for cyclists at railway stations.”
Labour: Rail and transport plans are considerably more detailed with coverage running to three pages. Apart from renationalisation, the party is also committed to HS2 and building Crossrail 2:
“We will start by bringing our railways back into public ownership, as franchises expire or, in other cases, with franchise reviews or break clauses. We will introduce a Public Ownership of the Railways Bill to repeal the Railways Act 1993 under which the Conservatives privatised our railways.
“In public ownership, we will deliver real improvements for passengers by capping fares, introducing free wi-fi across the network, ensuring safe staffing levels, ending the expansion of driver only operations, and introducing legal duties to improve accessibility for people with disabilities . . .
“A publicly owned railway system can be the backbone of our plans for integrated transport. It will be built on the platform of Network Rail, which we will retain whole, working with the devolved administrations. We will ensure new rolling stock is publicly owned and will encourage expansion of public freight services in a publicly owned railway that will leave our roads freer of traffic and our air cleaner. We will facilitate British procurements, including steel, whenever possible . . .
“A Labour government will complete the HS2 high-speed rail line from London through Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester and then into Scotland, consulting with communities affected about the optimal route. We will link HS2 with other rail investments, such as Crossrail of the North (tying together our great Northern cities) and on to the Durham Freight Centre. We will build a new Brighton Main Line for the South East.
“ In London, to ensure our capital continues to prosper, we will build Crossrail 2
“And we will deliver rail electrification and expansion across the whole country, including in Wales and the South West. We will also consult with local communities to re-open branch lines.”
Lib Dems: The party also supports HS2, as well as HS3 and Crossrail 2. State run companies would take over failing passenger franchises, and the Lib Dems are pledged to shifting more freight from road to rail:
“(We will) ensure that new rail franchises include a stronger focus on customers,including a programme of investment in new stations, lines and modern trains.
We will allow public sector bodies and mutual groups involving staff and passengers to bid for franchises. . .
“As a result of severe failings that rise to the level of breach of contract, we will establish government-run companies to take over the running of SouthernRail and Govia Thameslink, with a long-term plan to find more effective and sustainable ways of managing these franchises involving greater powers fo rlocal government.
“We will pursue the electrification of the rail network, improve stations, reopen smaller stations, restore twin-track lines to major routes and proceed with HS2, HS3 and Crossrail 2, including development of a high-speed network stretching to Scotland.”
“ We will shift more freight from road to rail; complete East West Rail (connecting Oxford and Cambridge); and support the takeover of metro services in London by London Overground.”
For local services the Lib Dems would introduce a rail ombudsman to enforce passenger rights, improve compensation and sanction rail companies “as appropriate”. Labour is also committed to completing East West Rail.
UKIP would scrap HS2:
“Rail travel is essential but HS2 is not. This High Speed Rail project is unaffordable, requires massive borrowing, will blight people’s homes, and destroy valuable habitats. Spending £75 billion just to save a few minutes between London and Leeds is ludicrous and, we think, unethical.
“UKIP will put HS2 out of its misery. We will invest in upgrading existing main line services to create additional capacity, expand electrification, and improve east-west rail services and connections across the north of England. This will be the infrastructure that genuinely supports the economic and industrial regeneration of the region. A slogan, ‘The Northern Powerhouse,’ achieves nothing.”
The Green Party calls for rail renationalisation and is opposed to HS2:
“We will invest in regional rail links and electrification of existing rail lines, especially in the South West and North of England, rather than wasting money on HS2.”
(Like Labour, the Greens seem reluctant to use the ‘n’ word calling for public ownership instead of nationalisation).
The SNP says services in Scotland have improved since rail powers were devolved (to the Scottish Assembly) in 2005, but infrastructure should be devolved as well:
“Fifty-four per cent of ScotRail delays are caused by issues connected to Network Rail. SNP MPs will make a strong case for the full devolution of Network Rail so that we can deliver a more effective and efficient rail service for Scotland.
“Connecting Scotland to HS2 must be a priority, with construction beginning in Scotland as well as England, and a high speed connection between Glasgow, Edinburgh and the north of England as part of any high-speed rail network.
“SNP MPs will engage the UK government in discussions on the feasibility of improving cross-border rail links, including linking Carlisle to the Borders Railway.”
The SNP will also use new powers to enable a public sector operator to bid for the current ScotRail passenger franchise (upon expiry in 2025).
The only Plaid Cymru rail pledge is to reopen Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line, an important cross country casualty of the 1960s.