Report confirms rail cuts threaten safety

25 July 2014

The report, published by the TUC’s Action for Rail campaign in which ASLEF plays a leading role, is based on the findings of focus groups conducted with railway workers. It shows that industry insiders fear the cuts have led to
• staff shortages,
• less frequent inspections
• the increasing use of workers employed on zero-hours contracts; and
• a higher risk of a major rail accident.
ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan picked up this final point in a radio interview earlier today when he said, ‘Rail safety tends to be a priority issue for government for a couple of media-filled days after a tragedy like Ladbroke Grove or Potters Bar. Front pages are held for outrage and everyone from the Prime Minister to the station cat insists that safety is the overwhelming priority. Cost is insignificant compared with rail safety.
‘Today’s report shows these to be weasel words, empty mouthings made in the publicity glare of a tragedy. We owe it to everyone who has died or been injured on UK railways to ensure that rail safety is a reality, not a spin doctor’s catch-phrase.’
Mick argues that the government must fund Network Rail to the level that enables it to guarantee not just to maintain, but to improve, the rail service’s safety record. To wait until the next rail disaster before acting would ‘quite literally, be criminal’.
The research – The Impact of Efficiency Savings on Network Rail Staff, Performance and Safety – voices workers’ concerns that a major accident could happen as a result of the culture that has developed in rail maintenance where safety is threatened because of a lack of resources.
The participating workers said that

  • financial constraints meant that staff have had to take on multiple roles
  • safety has been relegated into third place behind complying with budgets and hitting performance targets
  • when safety concerns are raised, they are rarely acted upon
  • there is an endemic culture of long-hours within railway maintenance
  • the use of private contractor, often on zero-hours contracts, is increasing
  • teams working on renewing the tracks are smaller and jobs need to be completed in a shorter time
  • budget cuts have affected inspection services, meaning potential safety breaches are less likely to be spotted, and equipment less likely to be checked.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady pointed out, ‘When track workers – who see with their own eyes when safety corners are being cut and where crucial maintenance jobs are delayed – warn that a major accident could be just around the corner, it’s surely time for ministers to wake up and act.’
The report’s authors most pressing recommendations are for

  • an investigation into the long-term impact of budget cuts and reductions in staffing upon the safety of the rail network
  • a halt to private contractors employing staff doing safety-critical work on zero-hours contracts
  • the rail industry to urgently address the under-reporting of safety concerns across the network, and demonstrate that safety is its overriding concern.

 

The Impact of Efficiency Savings on Network Rail staff, Performance and Safety is available at www.tuc.org.uk/networkrailefficiency

 

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