Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/412/4683
Courts fail to tackle rail dangers
PRIVATISATION OF public transport has consistently put profits before safety and the courts say they can do very little about it. The Crown Prosecution Service now says there's no "realistic prospect of conviction" of privatised rail company executives on manslaughter charges over the Potters Bar disaster in May 2002.
The crash killed seven people after a train from Kings Cross derailed due to a defective set of points. Investigators found that four nuts meant to hold together key components of the points had gone missing. This caused the points to change direction as the train thundered over at 100 mph.
Jarvis, the notorious privateer, cut corners to save cash and completely failed in its duty to maintain the track. They accepted liability last year but as with the Hatfield crash, the executives will face no consequences.
A few weeks ago, the executives of Jarvis' fellow privateers Balfour Beatty escaped real penalties for their involvement in the Hatfield rail crash in 2000. They too failed to repair cracked rails that led to a fatal derailment. Five Balfour Beatty executives walked free when corporate manslaughter charges failed.
A few weeks later they were fined £10 million which was made meaningless when the firm was offered juicy privatisation contracts in the same week!
If the courts cannot or will not take action against the greedy rail fat cats, rail workers certainly can do as our next story, below, shows.
We struck for safety - and won
WORKERS ON London Underground's Northern Line took strike action on 12 October to protect both workers' and passengers' safety. They succeeded in making management put right a dangerous fault in emergency stopping equipment. A Northern Line driver explains why they struck for safety.
NORTHERN LINE signals are fitted with train stops that are in the 'up' position when the signal is at danger (red). This works in conjunction with a trip cock at the front of the train. When this is operated, safety brakes are applied.
On five occasions in the past six weeks, a trip cock has only partially applied and then reset itself when travelling at low speed. After the fourth occurrence the unions, RMT and ASLEF, demanded that trains be double-staffed and fixed train stops situated at two points on the line in order to trip all trains to prove the trip cocks were working.
This was done but many drivers felt the whole fleet should be withdrawn until this serious defect was rectified.
They did not believe management's assurance that this defect wouldn't happen again if they changed the reset cord's diameter and carried out other cosmetic changes to the trip-cock cabinet. They were also angry at the slow response to the safety issue.
These drivers made a stand and refused to drive trains. Management tried to intimidate them but they stood their ground. Then when a further instance occurred to a train with a modified reset cord, all drivers said "enough is enough".
Management tried to nip any further action in the bud by sending four drivers home without pay. Of course this inflamed the situation and the protest spread.
Next morning, 13 October, nothing moved. The drivers' action was vindicated when, after a meeting with the unions, London Underground (LU) issued a Regulatory Notice taking out the Northern Line fleet until all trip cocks had been modified. These modifications mean that if a train is part tripped and then reset the brakes will still come on.
When the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract started in 1997, the rolling stock maintenance was privatised and handed over to Alstom. After several failures, Alstom's maintenance regime was investigated and found to be totally inadequate.
Whilst maintenance is done by Alstom, the contract is managed by Tubelines. With the Regulatory Notice, London Underground put in their own engineers to oversee maintenance. There is strong speculation that Alstom will be stripped of their contract.
This shambles shows how disastrous tube privatisation has been. A BBC poll showed 93% of Londoners want tube privatisation reversed.
New Labour hailed the privatisation of Northern Line depots through PFI as a resounding success and the way forward for the Underground and the public sector. Flushed with success, Richard Bowker, the architect of this PFI, became the Strategic Rail Authority's director, with catastrophic results.
The Northern Line PFI has unravelled. Another contractor, Metronet plans to fragment the industry further by handing depots to Bombardier. The fleet maintenance workers are ready to resist this outsourcing. The RMT should seize the moment and bring this dispute forward.
At the RMT's last Regional Committee, fleet maintenance shop stewards reported a shocking catalogue of corner-cutting since privatisation. All these companies should be investigated and exposed, then booted off the underground.
The unions gave the go-ahead for trains to be brought back by Sunday night (16 October). Many drivers were very upset that the fixed train stops put in to test trains had been removed.
Morden depot drivers kept on refusing to drive trains until these were reinstated. Although drivers in other depots agreed with us, the union safety reps did their utmost to back up LU management on this issue, which left a sour taste.
But we all see this dispute's outcome as a victory.
In The Socialist 20 October 2005: