Labour commits to bringing railways back into public ownership

Labour is set to publish a “radical” transport plan which includes bringing the railways back into public ownership, the shadow transport secretary has confirmed.

Speaking during a fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Liverpool, Louise Haigh said the plan would replace “fractured, fragmented chaos” on the network.

She said the “comprehensive” strategy will include a long-term plan for delivering rail infrastructure which would “ensure that we can deliver from day one” of a Labour government.

Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in 2019, Labour made a manifesto pledge to nationalise the railways, but the party’s plan for the network had remained unclear under current leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Ms Haigh said: “There is no point offering infrastructure announcements of investment unless we radically reform railways as well, because for too long decisions around investment and infrastructure have been made completely divorced from the reality of the way railways are run.

HS2 project
Rishi Sunak has defended his decision to cancel the HS2 line from Birmingham to Manchester (PA)

“We are working in lockstep with unions, mayors and with local leaders and industry. That means bringing our railways back into public ownership, where they have always belonged.”

The shadow transport secretary said Labour would deliver a “simplified, unified rail network with passengers at the heart”.

She added: “Achieving an affordable, accessible, integrated passenger focus will require a single, accountable, organising brain to break down barriers that have created cost and complexity.”

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves earlier said Labour would act to prevent a repeat of the HS2 fiasco by creating a new cross-government unit to keep major infrastructure projects under control.

Ms Haigh said she had commissioned the inquiry, which would be independent and ensure “lessons are learned” from HS2, after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled the high speed line north of Birmingham last week.

Commenting on the decision, Ms Haigh said: “After 13 years of breaking our transport system, the Tories have the audacity to try and make it the centrepiece of their conference and they really did defy expectations.

“What more do you need to know about 13 years of failure than a flagship levelling-up project that will never reach the North of England and is not set to reach central London either. Only in Tory Britain.”

Mr Sunak defended his decision on HS2 on Monday, insisting the £36 billion costs would be better spent on transport across the country, including on bus, road and rail networks.

Speaking at the conference fringe event, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he will continue to object to Mr Sunak’s decision “in the strongest possible terms”.

He added: “I believe what we saw in Manchester last week was the desperate act of a dying Government. It shouldn’t be allowed to do what it did. It brings politics into disrepute to act in that way.

“The truth of the matter is that for far too long in our country we have had people running the country, both in the civil service and politicians, who think they can treat people in the North of England as second-class citizens.

“When it comes to transport, they think that can offer us something inferior.”

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