Taking a lead

Six major incidents in six years, each resulting in serious loss of life. That is the grim balance sheet of the privatisation of the rail network, and that does not include countless 'minor' incidents. Britain's railways are widely acknowledged to be a shambles - and a dangerous shambles at that. Even Tony Blair, not exactly known for an ability to objectively assess the achievements of his government, was forced to admit in his series of interviews with Jeremy Paxman that Britain's transport system was "not all it should be". While Potters Bar station reopened this week, Jarvis, the rail contractor responsible for the maintenance of the points, has been frantically casting about for a scapegoat in the form of a saboteur. First, they allegedly had evidence from metallurgists of sabotage and then they claimed to have photographs to support this. These claims have a slightly fantastical ring to them to anyone that works on the railways. Not only would sabotage be a complex endeavour, requiring insider knowledge and accomplices; it would also have to be carried out in the middle of a busy track next to a station. It is hardly surprising then that both the health and safety executive and the police have, so far, been dismissive of the sabotage theory. An HSE investigator told The Sunday Telegraph that "the first indications are that sabotage played no role in the Potters Bar disaster" (May 19) and the police all but ruled out sabotage on the same day. Jarvis obviously has a vested interest in blaming a phantom saboteur. If negligence is identified as the cause of the crash then it will face substantial claims from the relatives of those who died and those who were injured. On top of that, its share price, which plummeted following Potters Bar, will obviously go into free-fall if it is dragged through the courts. In response to Potters Bar, Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, has correctly pointed to the damage caused by the fragmentation of rail network brought about by privatisation and, crucially, the "fatal error" of "the separation of tracks and trains" (Morning Star May 22). Indeed, fragmentation is so bad that Railtrack was not initially sure which contractor was responsible for the maintenance of the Potters Bar points. Reintegration of the network is clearly an urgent requirement. The real question is whether that should come through bureaucratic nationalisation from above or democratic integration from below. The RMT demands renationalisation, full stop. In contrast, the Socialist Alliance's People before profit manifesto calls for the rail network to be placed "under the control of those who work on and use it" (p10). This correct stance should be the starting point for any campaign among rail users and workers. However, despite the fact that an SA rail fraction was established at our trade union conference in March, it has not met since. This situation urgently needs to be rectified. Our rail fraction needs to discuss a united and coordinated response to Potter's Bar. To that end I have posted a request for an urgent meeting to our e-caucus and also to our convenor, comrade Greg Tucker . Derek Goodliffe