THE POST-Christmas chaos caused by major engineering overruns on the rail network and the anger caused by massive fares hikes have highlighted the need to reverse fragmentation and bring rail back into public ownership, Britain’s biggest rail union says today.
As Network Rail blamed lack of skilled engineers and contract staff for overruns that closed sections of the West Coast Mainline and London’s Liverpool Street station, RMT renewed its call for rail renewals work to be brought back in-house.
“The massive problems faced by our members and hundreds of thousands of commuters over the last few days have added insult to the injury already meted out in the form of inflation-busting fares increases,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
It is ludicrous that work planned months ahead should have overrun so seriously because there weren’t enough contract staff to do the work, but the very fact that Network Rail is so dependent on a maze of contractors and sub-contractors is at the root of the problem.
Network Rail has already shown how much better things can be by bringing most routine maintenance back in-house, and there is no earthly reason why the bulk of major renewals contracts shouldn’t come back in-house as well.
The private train operators have been making the most of having something to complain about, but now is not the time to let them off the hook.
Just like the contractors and the train-leasing companies, the franchisees are in business to see how much they can take out of the industry, not how much they can put in, and between them the privateers have leeched well over £10 billion in profits out of the industry.
Franchising doesn’t work, the contract culture doesn’t work, the train-leasing companies make profits that would make Al Capone blush, and the whole lot is overseen by a watchdog with two heads.
It is the Office for Rail Regulation that is turning the financial screw on Network Rail, so even if it wasn’t just an exercise in recycling public money, what is the point of the same body levying a huge fine when it all goes wrong thanks to lack of resources?
The solution is simple. Rail operations, infrastructure and rolling stock should be re-united under a single, publicly owned body, answerable directly to the Department for Transport.
The economy and the environment are crying out for an efficient and affordable railway, and every penny going into the industry should be spent on achieving that,” Bob Crow said.