Burnham pledges to develop publicly controlled rail at Aslef drivers’ union conference

THE chaos caused by rail and bus privatisation was condemned by northern mayors and train drivers in Manchester today. Drivers’ union Aslef called a policy conference as part of the union’s Invest in Rail campaign to plan for public control of transport. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram attended and pledged to develop publicly controlled integrated rail systems in their regions.

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracey Brabin, who was to have attended the conference, was announcing plans for a GBP2 cap on all bus fares in her region, a move the Department for Transport will have to ratify. Aslef’s nationwide campaign demands “full completion” of the HS2 development to the north of England and Scotland, electrification of the rail network nationwide, transfer of more freight from road to rail, better passenger access, an end to the notorious congestion in Manchester, a funding settlement for Transport for London and investment and growth in rail in Scotland. The union’s general secretary Mick Whelan told the conference: “We were arguing pre-Covid about what was needed: investment in rail and investment in ‘green’ trains.

“I was at the Cop26 conference in Glasgow waiting for the buffoon from Westminster [Prime Minister Boris Johnson] to make the announcement. I should have stayed at home.” He said that every other European country was investing in and developing their rail networks. “All over Europe they are going to rebuild their rail structures,” he said.

“We demand what people want — a greener and more effective railway.” Labour-run Greater Manchester and Liverpool City regions are committed to public control and investment in public transport in their regions. Mr Burnham said integration of bus and rail services was essential.

“You can only integrate if you have got public control of the whole thing,” he said. “Under all governments since the 1990s, privatisation has failed the travelling public of Britain.” Mr Rotheram said: “I have been a long-time advocate of renationalisation. “This [Tory] lot are not going to do it because their friends are making huge amounts of money out of it.”

Mr Whelan said: “Sixty-four per cent of the public believes rail should be renationalised — including Tories. But you have this group and they are committed to dogma, not to the public.”