Transport for Wales is to be nationalised as of February. This unfortunately was not a deliberate act by the Senydd (Welsh parliament) but rather was a result of the break down of bailout talks with Keolis Amey who have decided to walk away despite having received £267m in subsidies from the Senydd in just 2 years in which they held the franchise.
The Welsh government does not have the power to nationalise industries and rail unions have also stated that under current UK law it is not possible for governments to step in permanently. What we have instead is that the Welsh government will only take control for the remainder of the current franchise term,still a significant 13 years to go.
The crisis erupted during the covid-19 pandemic, with falling passenger numbers the logic of capitalism began to unravel the franchise as it became unprofitable and the bailouts offered were not enough to satisfy Keolis Amey as they decided to walk away. Scandalously though, they have not walked away completely, they have walked away only from passenger services which have become loss making. However, as part of the original franchise deal which began in 2018, the ownership of the tracks and infrastructure of the valley lines (the main commuter lines into Cardiff from surrounding towns,) previously owned by the Welsh government, was handed over to Keolis Amey. They have decided and been allowed to retain ownership of the valley lines tracks as they still see a profit to be made. With big infrastructure projects still to be completed as part of the ‘South Wales Metro’ this side of the business will certainly remain a profitable asset for them.
This is a continuation of the neoliberal ‘privatise the profits, nationalise the losses’ policy that bailed the bankers out while the rest of us were made to live with austerity. The scraps are handed back to governments to pick up the bill and provide the necessary investment.
Keolis Amey took over the franchise with huge fanfare The previous franchise holders Arriva had become hated due to poor services, late running trains and cancellations with rising fares. However Keolis Amey were able to achieve what many people had thought impossible: more late trains and cancellations than had happened previously, in some cases several trains in the same route concurrently meaning half hourly services became 2 hourly services! As a regular passenger myself I witnessed chaotic scenes of rail staff themselves unable to find out if services were running or not!
As things stand nationalisation was only able to take place under the creations of ‘operators of last resort’. This means that with no provider company willing to run a loss making service, the Welsh government was able to step in. The implication of this is that as soon as passenger numbers begin to rise back to previous levels, the service will once again be privatised to be run by a parasitic multinational once again.
The time is now for the Labour government in Cardiff Bay to carry out permanent nationalisation of the rail franchise along with all other public services – but it shouldn’t be the current ineffective management which are left in charge. It should be under the control of workers in the rail industry, and people who use the service, who make decisions. If the Westminster government tries to block this, there should be a campaign linking both unions like the RMT, ASLEF AND TSSA in the rail industry service users in the wider community to demand not only nationalisation on a permanent basis but a service which can allow for increased wages, lower fares and better investment in trains and infrastructure. Wales is in desperate need of this, it has 10% of all rail lines in the UK, but currently only 3% of investment. If you remove the need to pay out dividends and profits to shareholders, then It is perfectly possible to do all of this and highlights why private companies have no place in public services.