Williams off track

01 August 2019

August 2019


Keith Williams has been drip feeding the contents of his rail review before the report is actually released but there has been less than enthusiastic support from stakeholders, the travelling public, and politicians across the divide.


The first thing he says we must focus on is punctuality. Now I am old enough to remember when the first priority was safety; does Williams want more penalties that turn trains back from their destinations to protect PPM?


Second, he wants a Strategic Rail Authority-type body divorced from government. That didn’t work in the early days of privatised chaos and it won’t work now. Putting the foxes in charge of the hen house through the creation of the Rail Delivery Group – to give two degrees of separation from a Chris Grayling-led DfT – was patently unsuccessful.


Recreating a useless quango from the past is not the way forward. But this quango was supported by the TOCs, in their submissions, so is it any surprise that the third major recommendation is for longer franchises to ‘encourage investment’? That was the lie peddled at privatisation; investment hasn’t happened and there is no reason to believe it will.


And where are the suggestions for dealing with freight, future capacity, and Network Rail debt?


There’s talk of devolution, which we are not fundamentally against, but devolution without funding equals cuts and if there is a further drift towards concessions then the case for wholesale nationalisation is clear. Let’s have one publicly-owned, vertically-integrated, safe concession!


I am aghast at the government’s decision not to support the steel plant in Scunthorpe. Social impact should be a determining factor, particularly in government procurement. What happens to supply chains, apprenticeships, local and national economies? Other countries look after key industries, so why can’t we?


The recent deaths of two track workers near Port Talbot has exercised our minds on rail safety. Our thoughts and condolences are with their friends and families, and extend to all staff involved in this tragic event and its aftermath. As always, we await the outcome of the investigation before commenting further.


We remain one of the safest railways in the world, but staff and passengers have a right, each day, to go home safely. This year’s comprehensive 71 page ORR report records that incidents at level crossings have reduced, but SPADs and near misses have increased, as have fatalities, with platform interface issues and trespass a key cause.


The rail industry needs to concentrate on signalling irregularities, objects on the line, and fatigue in the freight sector. It is our intention to work closely with the industry on safety, but to be a critical friend when required.


Please be safe.


Yours fraternally,


Mick Whelan

General Secretary

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