Rail campaigners express fury over government's privatisation plans

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Job losses at Bombardier
Job losses at Bombardier

Rail campaigners will today stage protests against government plans to create a new private rail franchise, warning it could lead to hundreds of job losses.

The TUC's Action for Rail campaign claimed the coalition had rushed through giving control of Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern Railways to Govia - a joint venture between French company Keolis, which is majority owned by French state railways, and Go Ahead.

Unions claimed the Government was allowing cuts in the number of guards on trains, introduction of driver-only trains and reductions in station staff.

Unions also fear that when Siemens takes over the rolling stock contract for Thameslink hundreds more jobs could be lost - especially amongst existing rail maintenance crews.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Govia's shareholders will be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of the huge dividends that will flow from controlling such a huge swathe of the English rail network.

"But with the profits likely to end up being ploughed into French railways, when the investment is needed in the network here, UK taxpayers and passengers will be getting a raw deal.

"Not only are there likely to be huge job cuts across the area controlled by the growing Govia empire, the prospect of driverless trains and the loss of staff at stations across a third of the network will make travelling, especially late at night, a less safe experience for passengers."

Acting RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "It is scandalous that the logical and popular option of bringing the massive Southern/Thameslink franchise under public ownership has been ignored and instead it has gone to a consortium involving the French state operator.

"Fares in London will go up to subsidise fares in Paris. This government is quite happy to have state ownership of our railways as long as it isn't the British state.

"Regardless of who won this particular round of the great rail franchise lottery the bottom line is that those taking charge will have the green light to axe nearly 500 safety-critical guards and move the entire service to a driver-only operation - all in the name of greed and profit.

"Commuters forking out up to £5,000 a year will end up paying through the nose to travel on de-staffed, unreliable, overcrowded and unsafe trains. The only safe and sensible option was to bring the whole lot under public ownership but this Government would rather carry on with the great rail privatisation rip off."

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "This coalition will have increased rail fares by more than 20% by next May while at the same time allowing private rail companies to extract hundreds of millions from passengers in profits.

"Over the same period, publicly-owned East Coast Main Line will have repaid over £900 million to the Treasury. This is why we need a publicly-owned railway which puts passengers first."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "This is irresponsible scaremongering by the rail unions and their actions show no regard for passengers.

"We are investing record levels in maintaining and improving the network with £38 billion being spent over the next five years, bringing real benefits for passengers and taxpayers, and creating jobs across the industry.

"This new franchise will see 1,400 new electric carriages, providing 50% more capacity and 10,000 extra seats every weekday into central London during the morning peak by the end of 2018.

"We expect Govia to work with existing and new staff in delivering a truly transformational franchise, which will provide more trains, more seats and better services. Safety is the number one priority for all operations on the railway."