Transport secretary Chris Grayling has urged the rail industry to prove its worth to ward off public support for renationalising the railways.
Grayling warned that a generation of passengers who do not remember state-controlled railways now look at overcrowding issues and “wish it could be different”.
At the Labour Party conference last month, deputy leader Tom Watson confirmed Labour’s plans to “renationalise our railways” if elected.
Grayling told rail professionals at a Rail Industry Association (RIA) event at Parliament this week that although the rail network was “bursting at the seams”, losing private money would be a catastrophe.
“The reality is, it would be disastrous if we took away the private investment from the railways,” he said.
“We must not allow a narrative to build that says our railways are anything but a success story, and we’ve got to demonstrate very visibly and very publically that success is happening.”
Grayling called for smarter ideas from the industry on how to minimise disruption for passengers during engineering works.
“We’re not running a giant train set: we’re actually part of a customer service business, and so it’s all about finding the best ways of delivering the best outputs for the customers. And I want innovative ideas about how to do that,” he said.
RIA chief executive Darren Caplan agreed with Grayling’s sentiments about demonstrating the industry’s worth.
“The RIA is working hard to showcase the UK’s railway system,” he said.
“The UK rail network is one of the best in the world and, despite a sometimes negative portrayal to the public, our passenger and freight numbers are growing, satisfaction scores are among the highest in Europe, and we have a very strong safety record. We should do more to promote the great work this sector does day in and day out.”
Later this month the Department for Transport will launch a “first-of-a-kind” rail programme with Innovate UK, a public body which funds new ideas in business and industry.
Graylig earlier this month set out Network Rail’s £48bn spending plans for control period 6, of which £34.7bn will come in government grants.