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Co-operative open access

Another new open-access rail operator has unveiled plans for a service, this time from the West Country to the Midlands. But this latest potential rail operator is very different from those of the past – this time it’s the brainchild of a ‘co-operative’ group interested in public transport opportunities. Peter Plisner reports

T

alk about the Co-op and first you think of the supermarket at the end of the road or the milkman who delivers to your doorstep at the crack of dawn. Now get ready for a

different type of service from the Co-op, this time on the railways. The mission for ‘Go Co- operative Ltd’, according to it’s prospectus to potential investors, is to ‘reduce the social and environmental impacts of travel by providing mutually owned, high quality inclusive public transport services that encourage people to choose more sustainable options’. It’s an impressive opening statement

from a group that’s promising ‘something very different’ in a privatised railway environment, where making a handsome profit for your shareholders is crucial. The concept of the Co-op going into rail services goes back to 2008 when Somerset Co-operative Services, a development body working on a range of projects, secured a grant to carry out preliminary research into the feasibility of a co-operative enterprise providing rail services through ‘open access’ on a model similar to that pioneered by Hull Trains. The work, according to the group, focused on three areas: first whether a co-operative could become a train operator; second where the best routes were in the south and south-west; and third, what kind of legal structure would enable sufficient finance to be raised from outside investors, while at the same time preserving the co- operative principles. We’ve already seen the Co-op branch

out into internet banking with it’s successful Smile operation. Phone services are available through ‘Phone Co-op’ and, more recently,

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