Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/335/5647
Cumbria rail disaster
ONCE AGAIN, Britain's privatised, split and profit-obsessed rail system has led to deaths on the track. On 14 February, four rail repair workers were killed by a runaway wagon on a mountainous stretch of line in Cumbria.
An unmanned wagon full of scrap rails was, according to new evidence, secured merely by two small pieces of wood jammed under the wheels. Nothing could stop it from gaining speed on the slope - some rail workers claim it could have reached 80-90 mph.
The wagon carried no lights, the workers could not see it coming. Their new clumsy safety helmets, which were disliked by the workers, may also have prevented them hearing approaching trains.
Why are there still tragic incidents like this on a modern railway? Privatisation is the main reason - firms put their profits before safety. In January 2003, just a short distance from the scene of this disaster, a runaway wagon careered out of control for almost two miles before it was stopped.
Both incidents involved modified road trailers on sloping track and both were on sections where privatised maintenance firm Carillion Rail was in charge.
Carillion is a privatising 'octopus' - its £2 billion turnover comes from various activities - health, rail etc. Even the privatised train operators have complained about its rail business' poor standard of upkeep and almost non-existent supervision of track workers.
Carillion, the other four contractors on the line and Network Rail clearly didn't act on the lessons of the 2003 crash. Why didn't they fit automatic hydraulic trailer brake systems to all such wagons? Was it greed for profit?
We clearly can't trust privatised rail companies to keep up safety for workers or passengers. The rail union RMT were quite right to demand a public inquiry into this case and into safety management across the rail system.
We don't want a Hutton-style whitewash where upper-crust experts shrink from recommending that private rail owners are put on trial for corporate manslaughter.
We need a real inquiry by working people, passengers and rail workers, which can show the folly of leaving safety to profit-driven privatisers.
The Socialist Party argues for a publicly owned rail and transport industry under democratic working-class control and management which can make real investments in improving safety on the system.
In The Socialist 21 February 2004:
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party feature