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Welsh Labour reprivatises rail lines: reverse Tory sell-offs!
Dave Reid, Socialist Party Wales
The Welsh government has announced, with great fanfare, handing the new £5 billion Wales and Borders rail franchise to multinational corporation KeolisAmey. Not only has it reprivatised the operating franchise - it has handed over the tracks and stations too.
Under the current franchise, Arriva Trains has been running the Welsh rail system into the ground. With powers over rail transferred from Westminster to the Welsh government, here was an opportunity for Welsh Labour to carry out Jeremy Corbyn's policy of bringing the trains back into public ownership and starting to provide a decent service to long-suffering, overpaying customers.
But yet again the Welsh government has taken the Blairite road of Tory privatisation.
Welsh Labour could have set up a public company to operate the trains. In fact, the Welsh government claims reprivatising the franchise was not its preferred option, and argues it does not have the power to effectively nationalise the 15-year franchise.
But the whole process has been shrouded in secrecy. The legal powers available to the Welsh government are unclear.
And if the Tories had dared to intervene to try and stop them, Welsh Labour would have been able to call on the mass support of working class people, who, if given a lead, could move into decisive action against the Tories and in support of nationalisation.
Instead, the Welsh government has handed the lot over to KeolisAmey - train operations, tracks and stations.
On the basis of building a campaign with the unions, the weak Westminster government could be overcome. What is lacking is not the powers, but the political will to fight for publicly owned public transport.
Many rail workers and passengers are asking: if the Tory government in England has been forced to bring the East Coast Main Line service back under public control, why could the Welsh Labour government not do the same?
The details of the deal have not been released yet. So rail workers and users do not know what kind of service and level of job security there is.
But unlike Labour authorities in England who have not supported keeping guards on the train, the Welsh government has promised to retain them. Mick Cash, general secretary of transport union RMT, has welcomed this. But if some of the trains are replaced by trams, will guards be retained on those routes?
Wales's underfunded transport infrastructure is creaking. The new franchise is charged with delivering the new South Wales metro system, integrating rail, bus and tram services to alleviate the transport mess that has developed.
But that has been used as the pretext to privatise the tracks and stations currently publicly owned by Network Rail.
Rail unions have been fighting the attempts of the Tories to hand over tracks and stations to their private corporate friends - but Welsh Labour is carrying out the Tories' policy for them.
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