Socialist Worker

The Underground is at breaking point

Issue No. 1874

FOUR DERAILMENTS this year. Two last weekend within 36 hours of each other, leaving seven people hospitalised. Tube workers and passengers are up in arms over safety on the underground now that its track, signalling and stations have been handed over to private companies by Labour ministers.

On Friday of last week a rail shattered causing a derailment near Hammersmith, west London. Metronet is the consortium responsible for maintaining the stretch of track. It admitted the rail had been damaged for up to five months.

This is the first time a broken track has caused a tube derailment for 37 years. Less than two days later a Northern Line train was derailed near Camden Town station, where the Tube Lines consortium has the contract. The consortium includes the Jarvis construction company. Jarvis was responsible for the track which caused the Potters Bar tragedy and has just lost its mainline rail maintenance contracts.

Tube drivers have been warning about the state of the track near Camden Town and in other areas for many months. Those warnings have been ignored. Instead of stepping up track inspections, the private consortia have continued scaling them back. Before the rundown of the tube in the run-up to privatisation, track inspections took place every 24 hours.

Now there are two or three days between inspections. Before PPP privatisation there were rules about introducing speed restrictions where drivers reported safety concerns.

Now private companies decide on the basis of the 'probability' of a derailment. A 'dip' appeared in the Hammersmith and City line track a week ago, yet no speed restriction was put in place.

Metronet bowed to pressure on Monday and put on a number of speed restrictions.

Tube workers move to defend safety

AFTER Sunday's derailment some tube drivers put on their own unofficial speed limits. Socialist Worker has learnt that many experienced drivers voiced fears for their safety.

Some 35 RMT rail union reps gathered for an emergency meeting on Monday and argued for an immediate action plan. Senior RMT health and safety rep Peter Sheridan told Socialist Worker, 'The two derailments bear out what we've always said about PPP-it's not safe. 'It is obvious for all to see that PPP is a system of private profits before safety. We need a campaign that moves toward the immediate renationalisation of the underground and the national rail. Strike action is a necessary component of that campaign.'

RMT general secretary Bob Crow says, 'We expect a return to a regime of immediate introduction of speed restrictions wherever track defects are discovered. We are calling on infrastructure companies to guarantee that there will be no changes in these standards or reduction in maintenance staff without agreement. We are telling London Underground that we expect all track, signalling and rolling-stock maintenance work to be carried out by qualified employees.'

He gave a deadline of Friday 24 October for the consortia and London Underground to agree to the restoration of these safety measures or face ballots for strike action.

In addition, the union has written to drivers to tell them it will back them if they refuse to work in a way that compromises safety. Activists were using that to build the confidence of tube workers to take action.

London mayor Ken Livingstone has said industrial action is unnecessary. The way to avoid workers having to strike is for him to spearhead a fight to win renationalisation and proper funding for the tube.

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Article information

Sat 25 Oct 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1874
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