Damage after a train hit a fallen tree in December. Photo: @AslefScotland on X
Damage after a train hit a fallen tree in December. Photo: @AslefScotland on X

Aslef member 

It’s almost a cliché that when talking about streaks of bad weather in the UK it correlates with severe disruption on our rail network. But with the continued decline and degradation of vital infrastructure, this joke won’t stop anytime soon or get any funnier.

Frontline staff and members of the travelling public are seeing on a daily basis the negative results of a shift within Network Rail from a ‘preventive’ mindset to ‘reactive’ maintenance. This is due to the vast cuts made to available funding – compounded by calls from the Tories to cut even more.

In previous years there were gangs of P-Way (Permanent Way i.e: railway workers) who managed their own sections of track, keeping a constant vigil on railhead and railside conditions. Now issues are only being reported when they occur. This includes the conditions of trains themselves; depot factories have backlog lists going back several months for fixing faults and failures, resulting in undermaintained rail stocks contributing to cancellations and delays.

There is a notable increase in the numbers of railhead cracks, retaining wall collapses, signalling and track circuit failures, overhead wire surges – including on high-speed lines while some drivers are in low-protection fibreglass shell driving cabs. These have not been given the media attention they deserves.

This race to bottom from the Tories is disgusting enough on its own but it comes on top of cuts being made to Network Maintenance which contributes to public safety. At the same time, the continuation of subsidies to the tune of billions of pounds to privately owned train companies begs the question, what’s the priority – public safety or private profit?

This is more then just an issue of resource allocation but a desperate example of why we need a fully nationalised rail sector, under democratic workers and service users’ control and management and fully-funded. This would be possible by a government acting in the interests of the working class – using the wealth and resources of society to provide safety for all.