Apr 2010 - Railways still take a kicking

01 June 2013

One of the reasons the Tories gave for privatisation was to ‘stop the railways being used as a political football’. The argument went that the government would award franchises and then leave private firms to run the industry like any private business - free of political debate and Treasury interference.

How massively wrong that was! Railways have been a central focus of political discussions all the time I’ve been general secretary.

Politicians across the board have used the railways to try to make themselves look dynamic and energetic – people of vision, ever coming up with fresh initiatives. But how much are these undertakings worth ?

It’s rather like me announcing that I have decided to give every single member of ASLEF a Jaguar XJ. A new one, mind. No cheapskate stuff. ‘How kind of good old Keith,’ I hear you say. ‘When will I be in receipt of said vehicle?’

If I said sometime in 2050, depending on me being re-elected every five years until then, you might feel a little cheated.

Something similar has been going on recently with politicians and high-speed rail. Both parties have looked busy and dashing as they’ve drawn lines on maps and quibbled about how far north the new track should run – but there’s no chance of seeing a new train for at least 15 years – or three General Elections.

And far from taking rail out of the political arena, it has been centre stage. Labour invited the Tories to discuss the proposals with them, but they were turned down. Clearly a political argument is of more value than a new track. Then the party tit-for-tat continued with the Tories saying they’ll start work on the line quicker than Labour. It’s more akin to playground banter than infrastructure planning.

Never mind the football. Pass the rattle.

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