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From The Socialist newspaper, 13 February 2008

Tangled web at Metronet

OUTRAGEOUS, SCANDALOUS, disgraceful... are a few of the printable words to describe the government's 2 billion bail-out of Metronet - the failed London Underground infrastructure company.

Simon Carter

Metronet (comprising five allegedly 'world class' companies as shareholders - Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Bombardier, EDF and Thames Water) was awarded the franchise to maintain and improve two-thirds of the Underground network under Gordon Brown's 'public-private partnership' (PPP) venture. (The other 'third' is maintained by Tube Lines consortium.)

PPP was meant to be a cost-effective way of improving the Tube without involving large sums of public money. In reality, like all PPP and PFI privatisation schemes, it meant private profits paid for out of public funds.

Under PPP, Metronet received about 70 million a month of government money, pocketing about 1 million a week in profits. But still it ran out of cash, forcing it into administration last July. Under the 2003 PPP contracts, the government effectively guaranteed 95% of Metronet's borrowings.

In July 2007 a London Underground Central Line train was derailed, trapping 800 passengers underground for about two hours. Passengers feared they were victims of a terrorist attack. In fact they were victims of gross negligence by Balfour Beatty, one of the companies working under Metronet. The company had stored some equipment badly and it had come loose, falling across the track.

Another problem arising from the Underground's fragmentation is that Metronet's signalling equipment on tracks and trains - contracted to Bombardier and supplied by Westinghouse - is not compatible with equipment from Alcatel, a rival, for Tube Lines' track and trains.

Metronet's failure and the unwillingness of other private sector companies to take on the task of tube track maintenance, has led to Metronet being taken back into the public sector under the wing of Transport for London (TfL- the London mayor's transport organisation),

Arguments between Bombardier and TfL over Bombardier's contract with Metronet, have delayed the transfer.

Last April, rail union RMT members working for Metronet balloted for strikes to stop the transfer of their posts to Bombardier. The threatened action forced Metronet to back down.

The Metronet fiasco further exposes Brown's support for privatisation and New Labour's belief that private profit is the way to provide public services.

The only way London Underground and the national rail networks can ensure proper investment and a safe and reliable service, is if they are taken back into public ownership and democratically run under workers' control and management.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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In The Socialist 13 February 2008:

Stop NHS privatisation now!

Local Government workers

Birmingham council workers' biggest strike for decades

'Single status' in the West Midlands

Bosses prepare to force through more cuts

Newham workers angry at councillors

Socialist Students

Uni Fees must be fought!

Feature: The great university swindle

War and terrorism

War and occupation in Iraq

Socialist Party news and analysis

Defend abortion rights

Millionaire welcomes economic recession!

Northern Rock

Liverpool's tale of two cities

Cardiff marches to save schools

100 people pack London world economy meeting


Cuts and backlogs cause delays

Tangled web at Metronet

International socialist news and analysis

Polish miners gain strike victory due to iron determination

Chad conflict - part of a wider power struggle


Prison officers: Fighting for trade union rights

Building the Campaign for a New Workers' Party


Comment: Opportunist blunder further splits Church of England

Workplace news and analysis

Land Registry staff vote for action

London Underground: Strike ballot in safety row

Campaign Against Climate Change trade union conference

Organise and fight back!

Shelter staff ballot for action


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