The Sleeper's Blog

26.02.16

Majority rules – Network Rail should keep its stations public

A short poll of RTM readers believe that Network Rail should keep control of all of its major stations. Earlier this week, RTM reported that Network Rail had contracted Citigroup bankers to look at the possibility of selling off parts, or all, of 18 of its major stations nationwide – including Manchester Piccadilly, Birmingham New Street and even London Waterloo.

The bankers are supposedly looking at all possible options for the stations – ranging from taking in firms to run shops to selling off the whole building – in order to plug Network Rail’s mounting £50bn debt.

While nothing is set in stone yet, this major station sell-off could be one of the elements of Network Rail’s imminent shake-up as part of Nicola Shaw’s report, due in March. One of her recommendations could very well be privatising the infrastructure body, or at least selling off its routes and assets to private companies, as was already indicated in the interim report.

Over 110 RTM readers shared their opinion on the story, with almost half (47%) arguing that Network Rail should strive to keep control of all its stations.

But the rest of the voters were split, with 23% arguing that selling retail spaces to developers is as far as Network Rail should go, while 15% thought it should offer individual concessions to developers, similar to the 30-year model used at St Pancras (which is run by HS1). This could see big firms control stations for decades in order to make the investment attraction.

Another 15% backed outright selling entire stations, although there is still some hope that they could be handed to operators in lieu of outside firms.

One of the commenters in the story argued it is “pretty much inevitable” that Network Rail will sell of its stations “when you take into account the wider picture of the government’s current and future finances, even before you look at Network Rail books”.

But another, Jim, attacked the possibility of “spending all that money on stations” and then selling them off. Birmingham New Street, for example, has just undergone an extensive five-year refurbishment and only re-opened its doors late last year.

A third commenter, Simon, took a different stance, commenting: “[I] presume Network Rail will just lease the station back from the eventual owners of these sales, as per what they have done with their HQ in Milton Keynes and Westwood in Tile Hill…”

While everything is still up in the air at the moment, sources told the Independent that hiring a major US bank to carry out these works makes sales “inevitable”, since the company specialises in “outright divestments” rather than just reviews.

And central government itself has admitted that it intends to allow Network Rail to sell its assets, with transport minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon most recently saying Whitehall will "not be dogmatic" about the future of the organisation.

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