The National:

SCOTRAIL, currently owned by Dutch transport giant Abellio but due to come into full public ownership and control as of March 2022, has rightly been panned on Twitter after a post celebrating their new open return between Glasgow and Edinburgh. This moment of hubris sums up everything that’s wrong with private companies running our trains.

As scores of people have pointed out, the ticket is a rip-off. Yet the tweet’s use of "just" when mentioning the price shows that the franchise’s marketing department clearly thinks that £30 is a steal for an hour’s journey. The real stealing here, of course, is by private companies who are allowed by the Government to continue to raise fares in a captive market, leaving passengers no choice. The UK has some of the highest fares in Europe.

READ MORE: 'Covid cover': Unions hit out at ScotRail over plan to axe hundreds of services

Scotland’s rail operators enjoyed public subsidies worth £482 million in 2019, cushioning the shareholders and bosses from financial risk. We pay for our trains both directly through tickets and indirectly through taxes. But because the railway is a privatised monopoly, there’s little incentive to improve the service and little consequence for delays. Scotrail was notorious for being unreliable even before the pandemic - cancelling 74 trains per day in 2019.

To add insult to injury, Scotrail’s tweet comes at a time when, across the UK, wages have fallen in real terms due to pandemic-related job losses. On average, rail fares have risen by 20% throughout the UK since privatisation in 1993, twice as fast as wages have since 2009. While fuel duties remain frozen, well-meaning workers are thus pushed into their cars as the only affordable option. 

The National:

Scotrail’s tweet implies that it had passengers in mind when designing the new ticket price (as they announce "You asked for it so we've delivered it"). But of course privatisation means shareholders are the priority, not passengers.

This needs to change - and happily, change is just around the corner. The gravy train for Abellio has almost reached its final destination, as Scotrail will become publicly owned in March 2022. Bringing Scotrail into public ownership is a huge opportunity for Scotland to lead the way on public transport and provide a greener alternative to commuters around the country. When public services are run for the public, it’s possible for standards to be driven up, while prices go down, since there is less waste creamed off in shareholder dividends. 

As well as Scotland, Wales is also taking its railway into public ownership, while the railway in Northern Ireland is already publicly owned - leaving England the odd one out. During the pandemic, the UK Government spent £12 billion subsidising the private rail companies to make sure they survived the fall in passenger numbers. Instead, it should have taken the opportunity to go for public ownership across the board. The East Coast line and the Northern franchise are already in public hands. 

The railway has huge potential to improve our lives – tackling the climate crisis, boosting the economy post pandemic, making cities liveable, reducing deaths from car accidents and air pollution, connecting people and making them healthier. But it needs to be in public ownership to fulfil this potential - both because it needs to be planned as a network and because it’s more efficient that way. Switzerland, for example, has the best railway in Europe, and a public transport system that people can rely on - and it’s publicly owned.

READ MORE: Holyrood motion accuses BBC of 'protecting Douglas Ross from criticism'

Across the whole of the UK, we could save £1bn a year by bringing the railway into public hands. That’s money that could be reinvested in more capacity, reopening railway lines, and reducing fares. It could mean an 18% fare cut across the board.

But beyond even these benefits, public ownership should mean a real say for passengers and the public. When ScotRail comes into public hands, we would love to see a voice for passengers and a voice for workers on the board. We’d love to see the Scottish Government showing how public ownership should be done. Not as an afterthought when privatisation goes wrong, but as a way to provide real accountability and vastly improved services for people who use them.

We’d love to see a new publicly owned ScotRail really listening to passengers and the public, giving them the fares they need to leave cars and planes behind, and going beyond gimmicks to create a railway to be proud of.