Bad year for rail

NINETEEN ninety-five looks like being a bad year for rail workers and passengers as privatisation gathers speed. Chris Green, director of Scotrail, has given a New Year’s message to his workforce, telling them that up to 600 jobs could go as a direct result of the government’s insistence that all 25 train operating companies cut their annual costs by 10%.

This has to be done without major timetable cuts, as even this govern-ment recognises that these would finish any remaining chance it had of winning the next election. They will come later.

Roger Salmon, director of Passenger Rail Franchising - the government quango responsible for ‘maintaining’ services and standards, has been setting out the minimum standard that any potential bidder will have to meet.

It is now obvious that this standard is going to be way below the previous level of service. Already the motorail services are to finish on May 28.

The overnight sleeper services, much used by Scottish MPs, are under threat. Sprinter trains with hardly any bike/luggage space and with reduced capacity will replace them.

Safety standards are also taking a battering. Railtrack has finally come clean and declared that it will not be pursuing the introduction of Automatic Train Protection, considered essential after the Clapham crash and which prevented the Cowden collision. It will not expand the automatic warning system either.

This is justified on the grounds of cost effectiveness. Railtrack has actually budgeted for a percentage loss of life as acceptable. In Regional Railways North West a sprinter unit was persistently put back into service despite the driving cab filling with toxic fumes. The train crew had to go to Manchester Royal Infirmary, who told the driver that these fumes had the effect of glue sniffing.

Meanwhile the ‘People’s Party’ cannot make its mind up on its policy towards rail privatisation. First it said it would restore the railways into British Rail Mark II. Then Tony said it would only give Roger Salmon more teeth. Now it has taken the usual stand and is saying nothing - ‘we will make our policy known if we get elected’.

What a pity that it is mostly Labour MPs using the sleeper trains from Scotland. But then again they can afford to fly, unlike those they claim to represent.

Aslef member, North West