The benefits of rail

30 September 2019

I have on your behalf spent many hours recently making the case for a greener transport strategy. Lots of groups want to jump on the climate change bandwagon, building on the recent school strikes and rise of Extinction Rebellion, and even long-established pressure groups do not seem to understand the true benefits of rail.


We could deliver many of the commitments made at the Paris and Kyoto accords if there was a true modal shift to rail as part of a long-term integrated plan to secure a proper future for future generations.


Grant Shapps' review into HS2 seems to have galvanised a number of people, some suggesting that investment — particularly real investment — is wrong and asking if there are cheaper, better, options? The reality remains that we need HS2 just for the capacity benefits alone.


It's a shame the vision isn’t greater. A true connected high speed network would free up freight, regenerate all the regions, and, partnered with electrification, deliver much of the green agenda being promoted by so many now.


Recycling decades-old defunct trains so that venture capitalists can continue to lease them at exorbitant costs does not form part of our green agenda. Many were not driver-friendly when built and are not fit for purpose now. How do all the trains and coaches purchased by the government end up being leased back to the industry at vastly over-inflated terms? Is it a tax fiddle? It's time for our trains to remain in our ownership when bought by public monies.


There were 271 suicides on our railways last year and my heart goes out to the families, friends and all those in the railway family impacted in each and every one of those tragedies. It has made me think about how many incidents did not happen or, fortunately, were averted, or people changed their minds, and what we need to do going forward?


We have been seeking a review of all lone working. Unfortunately 21st century society is not a polite one, much of it driven by political austerity (and, yes, it was a choice), county lines, knife and acid attacks. If we are going to have the feeling of a safe railway environment we need the staff and the passengers to know they are safe. Many of the locations we go to at anti-social hours and the shifts of a seven days a week railway are dependent on walking, waiting for cars or taxis, and going into turnaround points or sidings alone. It's time for a total review of what constitutes safe working.


It is the anniversary of the Ladbroke Grove tragedy this month and we should ensure that such a thing never ever happens again, but we still do not have legislation strong enough to deal with those who failed in their fiduciary responsibilities — and we must continue to seek it.


Yours fraternally,


Mick Whelan, general secretary

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