Nationalising the railways: Is Wales on the right track?

Maud Webster explores the Welsh Government's decision to nationalise the Welsh Railway from Febraury 2021

Maud Webster
2nd November 2020
It’s common knowledge that railway services in the UK are pretty shocking, with Wales’ trains being no exception. The childlike joy of a huge mechanical device whooshing you around the country is shattered once you factor in delays, cancellations, slow routes and (most importantly) extortionate fares. 

Many people think privatisation is to blame; ol’ Thatcher started the process of privatisation of British Rail, and it was under her successor John Major’s reign that the Railway Act 1993 sailed in and sold off all the railways. 

Rail experienced two key renaissances during its period of nationalised service: firstly post-war, when the tracks were initially nationalised, and also during the seventies when high-speed Intercity trains were introduced. Since, ticket prices have multiplied enormously, and though investment in railways has increased dramatically since 1993 (including from the government) arguably a significant proportion of this has been drained into expensive projects like HS2 and ThamesLink, rather than actually improving services.

For Wales, this all changes from next February, when their rail service is to switch control to the Welsh government. Rail is notoriously unprofitable, but with the pandemic driving down passenger numbers, private companies have no choice but to let the government take over. Economy Minister Ken Skates explained that the government had to make this choice to “stabilise the network and keep it running”

Unions praise this move, but many are sceptical over the cost to the taxpayer, with the contract taken by the Welsh government costing £65 million already. Those more optimistic hope that this might make rail more efficient, cheaper through subsidies, and that the introduction of a South Wales metro (through the extra funding) may revitalise the area.

If it works for Wales, maybe we will see the rest of the UK's governments succumb to pressure and re-nationalise the railways.

Feature Image Credit: Wikimedia.com

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AUTHOR: Maud Webster
she/they | third year architecture & urban planning student @ newcastle | co-head of culture for the 21/22 academic year

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