Put Wales' Trains in Public Hands, Assembly to Be Urged; CO-OP MODEL COULD BE A GUIDE, SAYS RAIL EXPERT

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM HENRY graham.henry@walesonline.co.uk

A PUBLICLY-FUNDED railway mutual should be established to run Welsh services when the current private tender runs out in 2018, a report published today will say.

Research commissioned by the Co-operative Party has called for an arm's-length, not-for-profit Rail Cymru operation to replace the Arriva Trains Wales franchise when its contract ends - claiming that a publicly-funded outfit would not be more expensive for the taxpayer.

Labour AM Vaughan Gething, who is sponsoring the launch this morning, will raise the issue later today in a short debate in the National Assembly, where he will ask for the support of Welsh Ministers in developing the proposals.

The report, by rail expert Professor Paul Salveson, proposes that Rail Cymru would be principally funded by the Welsh Government and run as a social enterprise and partly based on a co-operative model.

Rather than seeing profits go to shareholders, it would reinvest directly into the service itself rather than leaving Wales - modelled on the water company Glas Cymru.

The report argues that the management costs of Rail Cymru would be reduced from the PS140m subsidy given to Arriva Trains Wales. But it says there would be some set-up costs associated with the new franchise.

Mr Gething said ahead of the report's launch that the new organisation could mark a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to change the rail service for the better in Wales.

He said: "No-one can pretend that the current franchise model serves the passenger well in terms of cost or quality.

"If we don't demand a better service then we will get more of the same. The Rail Cymru report sets out how we could finally move towards a rail service that we all want and deserve."

Arriva Trains Wales has operated the rail franchise in Wales since 2003, on a 15-year lease of the Wales and Borders franchise, with a 2018 renewal date.

The idea could gain cross-party support in the National Assembly, given that Welsh Labour had included a commitment to creating a publicly-owned rail franchise after 2018, while Plaid Cymru shave also previously favoured a publicly-owned Welsh rail system.

But there may be resistance to public ownership of Welsh rail services in Westminster. Former Transport Minister Justine Greening has previously said the UK Government would not allow Scotland to run its rail services by a "publicly-owned operator".

Arriva - owned by German firm Deutsche Bahn - operates networks operating throughout Wales, as well as some cross-border regional services.

Ahead of the report's launch this morning, Karen Wilkie, deputy general secretary of the Co-operative Party and based in Wales, said that there was a growth in faith in co-operatives and mutuals, while it "wanes" in the private sector. …