Jaime Davies, Caerphilly Socialist Party
Two years and six months ago we tragically lost a brilliant comrade and a wonderful friend, Socialist Party member Bethan Roper. Our loss, both personally and on the battlefield of class struggle, is still difficult and painful to come to terms with.
Her family, friends and comrades will always feel it, and will continue to press for action to ensure that Beth’s tragic death could not be repeated. Beth died after being struck by a tree branch when she momentarily leaned her head out of a train to south Wales in 2018.
A coroner’s inquest into the accident has now concluded. But it has only hinted at the many failings of the private companies which dominate the railways.
The train company
The inquest heard that the signs warning passengers not to open windows while the train was moving were small and not clearly displayed. But why was this possible in the first place? ‘Droplight’ windows – still in use on the train that Beth was travelling on – are relics of the 1970s, when people didn’t have to wear seat belts in cars!
The failure to decommission such train carriages, and upgrade to modern ones with safer sliding doors, is indicative of the attitude of private companies running public services. The desire to make profit far surpasses the concern for public safety.
Unsafe features like these are still installed on trains in the 21st century, because train companies have preferred to dish out dividends to shareholders rather than invest in the service to make it safe, efficient and reliable.
Attention was also drawn to the overgrown state of the tracks, which had not been attended to for seven years. Tree specialist Julian Forbes-Laird told the inquest that the accident had been “foreseeable”.
The average ash tree can grow up to 14 feet over seven years. This is clear neglect of a duty of care for workers and passengers.
Some press reports have shamefully attempted to let train companies and Network Rail off the hook by foregrounding the fact that Beth and her friends had drunk alcohol on the night when the accident happened. Travelling by public transport when you’ve had a drink is a responsible decision. Safety measures should be in place to ensure one split-second mistake can’t have fatal consequences.
The cutting of corners and failure to invest in the service is why Beth fought for the real socialist nationalisation of rail and other key services – not the sham version offered by Boris Johnson or Mark Drakeford in Wales – a publicly owned and democratically run, affordable and safe service that would put people’s needs and lives above profits.
Beth has a wonderful legacy. As well as working to aid some of the most vulnerable people in society at the Wales Refugee Council, she was a leading member of the Socialist Party in Cardiff, was active in her union, Unite, and a delegate to Cardiff Trades Union Council.
Beth fought alongside the working class and the trade unions in various disputes against attacks on their livelihoods by the bosses. Beth stood for the socialist transformation of society and against every injustice, and will forever be missed and revered for the role she played during the brilliant life she led.
- See ‘Beth Roper: comrade, friend and fighter’ at socialistparty.org.uk