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Climate ChangeJust transition for rail

Just transition for rail

Without militant rail unions, there may no longer be a viable rail network to talk of.

They put the brakes on the parasitic excesses of a system reconfigured to prioritise the profit extraction of personal corporations over the needs of passengers.

Delay Repay

Probably the most stark example of that is the system of Delay Repay. When trains are cancelled or delayed, passengers are entitled to a full or partial refund issued by train operators.

With trains so repeatedly disrupted, you would possibly query how some make any profit.

Haines-Doran details that 60 per cent of delays are literally attributable to Network Rail, reasonably than the train corporations themselves, by which case the previous mechanically compensates the latter to be passed on to passengers.

Nonetheless, because many passengers don’t know in regards to the scheme or as many refunds would just be a couple of kilos, 63 per cent of passenger compensation is unclaimed. Which means train corporations actually make £1.1bn a 12 months on delays.

A failing rail system is clearly a more profitable business than a functioning one.

Just transition

Having laid out these gross systemic failings, Haines-Doran’s major conceptual innovation is the concept of a just transition for rail.

Just transition emerged from the US labour movement within the Eighties as job-threatening regulations were introduced around air and water pollution. While it has come for use mostly in association with the necessity to fairly transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

By applying just transition to rail, Haines-Doran puts the climate emergency front-and-centre in arguments for fixing the rail system. He also stretches the just transition concept to a level of abstraction that feels synonymous with ‘socially just climate policy’ reasonably than in regards to the specifics of employees’ protections.

While rail employees are definitely a strategically significant workforce within the climate transition, the risks they face predominantly come from the neoliberal establishment reasonably than a modal shift that might expand the sector.

On the one hand, I query the applicability of the just transition concept to this context. On the opposite, we are able to keep in mind that any moment of economic upheaval – whether expansionary or contractionary – might be used to erode employees’ rights and conditions.


What would such an upheaval appear to be? Haines-Doran and I clearly share a commitment to rapid decarbonisation, a revitalised rail network, public ownership, and empowered trade unions. On a few of detail, nevertheless, we diverge.

Considering the rise of home-working, he argues for reducing overall travel demand as a part of the modal shift. Given how busy post-pandemic trains have been, I’m unconvinced the trend is enduring let alone desirable. Travel is nice and we must always advocate more, just by low-carbon means.

Relatedly, considering the bounds of our ‘carbon budget’, Haines-Doran argues for a deal with improving our existing rail network with only limited additions. Quite the opposite, I’ve argued for a vision of public luxury through investment in high-speed rail between cities and countries.

The economic mobilisation required for decarbonisation will necessitate an initial wave of investment and resource use within the short-term. The pay-off is within the long-term as we’re left with infrastructure suitable for our ecological conditions.

Rail travel is a joy. Our argument ought to be for it to be quicker, cheaper and possible between every conceivable location. If we would like to get people out of cars, we are going to need many more trains and tracks for them to run on.


How would we win such a system? As we proceed to reel from the defeat of Corbynism, Haines-Doran is understandably concerned by the bounds of Left-electoralism.

As a substitute, he argues for passenger campaigns in alliance with those focused on other modes of transport like buses. He is especially excited by “don’t pay” campaigns promoting fare refusal. Probably the most outstanding example of which is the recent campaign in relation to energy bills.

If Derailed has a blind spot around grassroots campaigning, it’s lack of consideration of the high-profile opponents rail construction.

Using direct-action by so-called environmentalists to withstand HS2 should cause concern for anyone demanding investment in rail expansion.

How we reconcile this reactionary tendency of environmentalism with a political coalition excited by social and ecological progress is a difficult but crucial query.

The state

Given the defeat of Corbynism and neoliberal capitalism’s undermining of each workplace and community organising, forging recent coalitions and progressive modes of grassroots organising is clearly obligatory.

Nonetheless, if our ambition is to rework the UK’s transport system as a part of a historic model shift, we cannot abandon the state as a terrain of struggle.

As I argue in my very own book, Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice, the state is the one political body able to administering the climate transition at the dimensions and with the urgency required

Whether we seek to capture state power or influence it from outside, query of how we leverage it in favour of a rail system that works for people and planet is unavoidable.

This Writer

Chris Saltmarsh is a co-founder of Labour for a Green Recent Deal and is the writer of Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice.


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