An ambitious move to launch the UK’s first co-operatively managed rail service
has moved a step closer as Go-op hands in a formal application to run services
in the South West of England.
Go-op has applied to the Office of Rail and Road to run services between Taunton and Westbury, starting in 2023. This will see ten departures a day, improving the service levels in growing market towns, such as Frome and Melksham.
“Go-op has taken several years of careful research and planning to ensure that our plan is both compliant with the highest standards of rail operation, and commercially viable too,” says Alex Lawrie, Vice Chair at Go-op. “As a co-operative, not only can Go-op improve transport links for some of our important local growing towns but we could help reduce CO2 emissions by 2.7 million kilogrammes annually if people move their journeys to our railway.”
Independent experts estimate that as many as 40% of passengers would be new to the rail network and this equates to some 17.5 million seat miles each year, with a significant number likely to shift from travelling by car.
And a Go-op study of productivity benefits* shows up to £37.5 million of productivity gains could result for towns in the south west served by Go-op.
Go-op services between Taunton and Westbury will also provide much needed connections for services to and from Yeovil, Southampton and Exeter. In addition, half will be extended to Swindon, and others up the Somerset coast to Weston Super Mare.
As a co-op, members of the public and Go-op employees will own and manage the organisation, with train operation and day to day running being professionally run, just like any other train business.
But unlike other train operating companies, Go-op will be seeking investment from passengers and the local community to make this service a reality. What’s more, Go-op does not distribute profits to private owners – after paying all expenses (including a fair rate of interest to investors) all remaining profits will be devoted to further improvements to public transport.
With a target of £1.1 million, Go-op is to launch a funding round focusing on ethically-minded investors who would like to see a sustainable community-owned railway and good potential returns on their investment.
Following an industry consultation, Wiltshire Council, Somerset Council, Cross Country Trains and the DfT have all expressed support for the proposal.
New Train Drivers for the Future
Go-op is also looking forward to train new apprentice train drivers, new community energy specialists and new transport planning technicians, bringing new talent and innovation to a struggling industry and protecting communities for the future.
Apprentices will earn whilst they learn, qualifying to work for the UK’s first community-owned train company and elsewhere in the sector.
“A debate about private versus nationalised rail system misses out the benefits that a co-operatively owned train business can bring,” says Alex Lawrie. “We are confident that we can bring together the benefits of a community and worker focus to create a sound commercial operating model.”