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The EU's hand in the privatisation of rail

The fragmentation of Britain’s railways has its roots in an EEC directive (91/440/EEC) handed down in 1991. This directive decreed the separation of infrastructure from train operations, with the express purpose of creating a competitive market. It was the blueprint used by John Major for the Conservative government’s privatisation of Britain’s railways from 1994 to 1996.

The EU never talks about privatisation. It prefers instead to refer to competition and markets. This lies at the heart of what the EU is really about, and the inevitable consequence is to privatise and fragment public services.

Many and complex interfaces between different organisations are required to deliver anything approaching a cohesive service such as the railway. With hundreds of players, the interface costs in the railway soar. 

Millions of pounds are spent bidding for the huge number of contracts. Bidding costs for passenger franchises has become so great that some players like National Express have pulled out of Britain and now fish in easier places like Germany, where the contract regime is somewhat cheaper.

Many of the firms coming in are big companies with little interest in the railways – particularly companies engaged in facilities management, cleaning, and information technology. Many then outsource some of their activities, further fragmenting the workforce.

All of this means the employers are much more difficult to organise in – though not impossible, as the RMT showed in February, winning big pay rises for DHL workers in catering and logistics on the West Coast line.

• Related article: Stop the rail sell-offs!

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