End the fragmentation of the railway system says Keith Norman

28 July 2005

Train drivers will welcome the government"s decision to shift responsibility for more of the running of Britain"s railways to Network Rail.

 

This is a useful if limited step towards ending the separation of infrastructure and operations and towards the recreation of an integrated railway. Any progress towards ending the wasteful regime of inter-company payments and penalties which privatisation entails is a good thing.

 

"The Strategic Rail Authority has failed to bring order to the jungle of private railway ownership..."

 

The Strategic Rail Authority has failed to bring order to the jungle of private railway ownership and has deeply disappointed railway workers, passengers and freight customers. Delaying its demise will be welcomed only by those on the gravy train.

 

Rationalising the running of the railway will be of greatest benefit if it is a step towards the recreation of an integrated rail network under public ownership.

 

Short of excluding profiteers from the railway system altogether the government should subject the train operating companies to tighter regulation. It is in this context that pleas by train operating companies for longer franchises should be judged. Their protestations that they cannot invest without longer franchises would be credible if their shareholders dividends were not already underpinned by massive public subsidy.

 

Reducing the number of franchises is a positive step. This strengthens the rail unions" belief that the railway is best managed in the nation"s interest as a single entity and as a publicly owned enterprise. Devolving powers to the Scotland, the Wales and English regional bodies and the London mayor offers the possibility of greater popular and democratic control over railway operations but itself is contradicted by private ownership.

 

The minister must ensure that local rail is sufficiently funded and does not become either the Cinderella of rail or a new opportunity to pour public subsidy into the pockets of the privately owned train operating companies.

 

The decision to move responsibility for railway safety from the HSE to the Office of Rail Regulation is perverse and carries the danger of a conflict of interest.

 

We agree with the assessment of Bill Callaghan of the Health and Safety Executive that any regulator should have teeth to be able to enforce measures where necessary.

 

Keith Norman is acting general secretary of ASLEF

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