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Rail Safety before Profit
JUST OVER a year after Paddington another privatised train company has seen one of its trains crash with the loss of at least four lives and over 80 injured, when a train carrying 100 people derailed near Hatfield on 17 October.
As The Socialist goes to press it is not clear exactly how the accident occurred.
And although the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the crash site was a bad stretch of line for vandalism, it stressed there was no evidence that that was a cause of the crash.
The HSE is still investigating an incident in the same area on 9 October, when nine people suffered injuries after a high-speed train derailed just 20 miles from the scene of this incident.
The crash comes just a year after the Paddington rail disaster killed 31 people, putting rail safety at the top of the political agenda. Inevitably most people will point the finger at the privatised railway companies and the Labour government.
Last week Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said £60 billion would be spent on rail safety over the next ten years. But this will be too little, too late for an increasing number of train disaster victims.
The 1989 inquiry into the Clapham rail disaster recommended spending £750 million to install Automatic Train Protection (ATP) but this was rejected by the Tory government who wanted to slash costs immediately prior to privatisation.
After Paddington Prescott said no expense would be spared to ensure rail safety. But only two weeks ago government ministers, including Prescott, opposed ATP being installed on Britain's death-trap railways and favoured Train Protection Warning System (TPWS).
TPWS gives a mere 70% protection and doesn't match European safety standards, but costs £150 million. ATP gives 98% protection and costs five times more. Obviously an expense that Prescott is willing to spare.
A railway worker told The Socialist: "The government backs the less effective TPWS system because it claims it's cheaper. But they continue increasing the subsidies to the Train Operating Companies, despite their poor punctuality and reliability performance. This money will go on paying increased track access charges to Railtrack, boosting their profits, and giving managers and directors inflated, unjustified salaries, while safety suffers."
Railtrack has done precious little to make the track and signal layout outside Paddington any safer.
The bosses of Go-Ahead Trains, who own Thames, recently gave themselves £30,000 bonuses on top of £200,000-a-year salaries. Relatives of Paddington victims could get as little as £7,500 in compensation.
After last year's crash, opinion polls showed that 73% favoured nationalisation of the railways. We call for a publicly owned rail and transport industry under democratic working-class control and management to put the needs of the travelling public and workforce first, not the profits of millionaire managers.
In The Socialist 20 October 2000: