In the wake of the failure of yet another East Coast rail franchise, widespread delays in train services, and now another hike in rail fares, we ask: is it time to renationalise our railways?

Last year saw the collapse of yet another East Coast rail franchise, plus escalating chaos and delays - especially on Northern and Govia Thameslink trains - caused by attempts to introduce new rail timetables.

According to the BBC, by the middle of October last year British trains had clocked up a staggering 32 years of delays (that's 283,904 hours) since the start of the year. The result: widespread commuter misery.

Yet, to passengers' frustration, the start of 2019 saw yet another increase in rail fares: up by an average of 3.1 per cent.

Surely we should be able to run our railways better than this?

Here, York Central MP Rachael Maskell and York Outer MP Julian Sturdy go head-to-head over whether we should renationalise our railways...

Is it time to renationalise the railways?

YES says RACHAEL MASKELL,York Central MP and Labour's shadow rail minister

York Press:

Another sharp rise in rail fares was met by another sharp intake of breath as people returned to work after the New Year. Commuters to Leeds can expect to pay £74 more for their season ticket this year. £630 more than in 2010 for just a 22 mile journey. On an average salary, a resident in York will pay 9 per cent of their total wages on train tickets compared with similar commutes costing two per cent of the average salary in France, three per cent in Ireland and four per cent in Germany. We are getting ripped off by private train companies; the worst deal in Europe.

Ticket prices have risen 2½ times faster than wages, an eye-watering 36 per cent increase since 2010, all after an unprecedented year of chaos and delays, which left swathes of passengers stranded at platforms every day.

Surely no-one can defend the privatised, fragmented rail service anymore. It is time for a new model of ownership; this is Labour’s plan.

In bringing rail into public ownership, we immediately remove all the duplication and barriers. We will end the disconnect between the infrastructure (track, stations, timetable and system) and operations (trains): full integration. Our rail structure will devolve decision-making closer to passengers, vital in ensuring proper connectivity, while maintaining co-operation nationally. Under Labour we will be able to plan maintenance, investment and enhancements for the long term.

The only thing reliable about the railways these days is the pay-out in dividends to the few private shareholders. Through our model of national ownership, we will reinvest this £750 million back into rail.

Labour is committed to the full Cross Rail for the North upgrade, while the Tory Government have planned for slower, polluting diesel trains on the line to Manchester. We will also invest in the long overdue enhancements on the East Coast Main Line. Under Labour, the North will also see new levels of investment, rebalancing our economy and infrastructure.

Labour will save £1bn in its first term of office on rail, while bringing greater reliability to passengers. York has the greatest level of rail delays in the country; we deserve far better.

The rail industry has highlighted how Labour’s rail model will save the industry 30 per cent in expenditure and bring greater stability too. York knows, only too well, what happens when investment is withdrawn, and we are still feeling the pain from the Carriage Works closure.

Above all, Labour wants to see more people getting out of their cars and opting for the train. To bring about real change we will start with a simpler, fairer and more transparent fares and ticketing structure.

Transport contributes to 29 per cent of carbon emissions, and yet this Government have cancelled rail electrification projects across the country. This is completely unacceptable as we fail to meet our climate targets, resulting in serious consequences. Labour’s transport policy focuses on cleaning up the environment. Alongside public ownership of our railway, we will enable local ownership of buses and put serious investment into walking and cycling; real interconnectivity, real choice. This will tackle congestion and poor air quality in places like York.

The number of public order offences has more than doubled in the last eight years and violence against the person is up by nearly 50 per cent. Labour’s rail policy will keep guards on trains - the passengers’ champion, the person who keeps us safe and serves our needs.

All will benefit, passengers will have a better service, staff will have one good employer, and our economy and environment will reap the benefits too.

We are ready to take over the rail service so that it works for people and not for profits, we just need your support at the General Election to deliver this.

NO says JULIAN STURDY, Conservative MP for York Outer

York Press:

The concerns many people express about the operation of our railways are entirely understandable. Delays, fare costs and complicated ticketing affect us all when travelling for work or family reasons, particularly regular commuters, who feel they have to pay considerable sums for a service that is too often sub-standard.

If is therefore important to have a debate about how we run and improve our railways. However, I think it would be a huge and costly mistake for the state to retake direct control of running trains from private companies, which is a deceptively simple ‘quick fix’.

The successful operation of the railways depends on how they are managed, and how much is invested in them, not on who owns the train operating companies. Giving the government direct control won’t automatically improve management, or release more funding. 98p in every £1 paid in fares is already spent on running and improving the railway. Therefore, the idea that state ownership will release vast sums of company profit which can then be spent on lower fares and more capacity is a bit of a myth. I strongly support active steps to ensure reasonable fares and simpler ticketing, but nationalisation is not required to achieve this, and would just waste time and money rearranging structures.

I am acutely aware of problems like over-crowding on certain routes, which is often due to ageing infrastructure which dates from the old days of nationalised British Rail, and can hardly be pinned on private operators who have only run services for the last 20 years. It is also surely important to note that in recent years nearly two-thirds of delays were actually related to Network Rail track maintenance, already a nationalised body, suggesting state ownership does not provide a perfect solution.

Thankfully, huge new investment is now being put in to address these issues, and it is these improvements which are threatened by disruption when it is argued that the government should take over. Although we cannot see the full results yet, the UK is in the middle of the biggest programme of rail modernisation since the Victorian era that made our city Britain’s capital of steam, with train companies investing £1.28 billion in 2017-18 alone. TransPennine and Northern are bringing in some 500 new carriages, creating capacity for 40,000 more passengers and 2,000 extra services a week for our area over the next few years.

Concerningly, nationalisation would seriously restrict the funds available for these improvements, as it would mean that all money for upgrades would have to be found by the government from its own resources, rather by the train companies. Rail upgrades would therefore have to compete for funds with other very important priorities like hospitals and schools. This would mean rail would either be denied much-needed funding, or would only get it by taking money away from other vital services, or through higher taxes or government borrowing, all of which would hit families.

Nationalisation would also land York taxpayers with a huge unspecified bill for compensation to buy out the train companies, which Labour have now admitted would have to be paid. The suggestion this could pay for itself by the income from the train companies, while at the same time cutting fares and increasing investment, sounds like a conjuring trick. It is noticeable that the Opposition have declined to say how much they would have to borrow to pay for this.

Overall, I am worried that renationalising the railways won’t solve current issues, will create major new problems, and that York passengers and taxpayers will pay the price.