End the Transport Chaos

The headline in the Independent 1 December: “Government seizes control of railways” wouldn’t have been out of place in an April Fool’s Day paper.

All the government was doing was to set up an emergency task force, headed by Lord Macdonald, to help the privatised industry recover from its self-inflicted wounds.

Yet all that’s happened is an announcement that at least half the speed restrictions will remain in force beyond February 2001.

Confusion caused by the new speed restrictions has led more signals to be passed at danger than previously. Railtrack’s record on repairs has got even worse.

They checked and declared safe a defective track near Glasgow then just a week later, there was a derailment on that very stretch.

The profit motive has ended the safety culture on the track. Railtrack runs the Safety and Standards Directorate and has a cosy relationships with private train operating companies and contractors, who seemingly ignore safety standards if they’re inconvenient.

All the privatised rail system’s attempts to resolve the difficulties have pushed nearly a third of its passengers on to the roads, which has 12 times the fatalities of the rail system.

Some rail companies and their defenders in the capitalist press say that it costs so much more to get such improvements as the Advanced Train Protection system (£15 minion per life saved), compared with implementing transport department guidelines on road safety, that it’s hardly worth it.

In other words they’re pleading to be allowed to carry on gathering profits from an unsafe system.

Even Sir Steve Robson, the Treasury mandarin who masterminded rail privatisation, has admitted that the network was broken into too many different entities and the system was geared too much towards “train operating companies cutting costs and too little on customer service”.

Sir Steve is now resigning his £110,000-a-year job to go windsurfing.