Conference Report

19 August 2005



Rt Hon Stephen Byers MP

Secretary of State, Department for Transport



Fundamental changes are needed in the way maintenance work is organised on the railway, Transport Secretary Stephen Byers told the ASLEF conference today.


He told delegates that “a new relationship is needed between Railtrack and contractors. A new relationship based on best value, not lowest cost, one that puts the interests of the travelling public first.”


Mr Byers said that “quality, best value and safety have to be paramount” in maintaining the railway” rather than cost-cutting.


The Transport Secretary won a standing ovation from delegates for his speech, in which he warned that he was ready to “take on the vested interests who have done very well out of the status quo” on the railways.


He said that reorganising maintenance work had to go further than had been recommended by Lord Cullen in his report into the Ladbroke Grove disaster.


Longer contracts, higher skills and training standards and an end to the present incentive system which sees firms penalised for taking too long over repairs were needed, he said.


Mr Byers renewed his commitment to see the rail network handed over to Network Rail, a new public-interest trust. And he won applause for telling delegates that “if I had my time again I would make exactly the same decision in relation to Railtrack.


“The Tories simply can’t believe that we have started rolling back the Thatcher-Major legacy.”


ASLEF executive committee President Martin Samways praised Mr Byers for coming under attack from the Tory press and for putting the interests of the travelling people first.


“What you have done is very popular with the people of this country,” he said, adding that the Transport Secretary could be still more popular if he would decide to “scrap PPP” for the London Underground.


Earlier ASLEF general secretary Mick Rix had slammed Jarvis, the rail contractor responsible for the track outside Potters Bar, for its allegations that the accident there had been caused by sabotage.


“They are jumping the gun on the industry’s own inquiry into the incident for commercial considerations. Jarvis seem more interested in propping up their share price than in getting at the truth of the accident.


“ It may well prove to be the case that it is the system of organising maintenance, rather than sabotage, which is at the root of the Potters Bar tragedy.”

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