NEW LABOUR'S privatisation scheme for London Underground came within a hair's breadth of killing dozens of people last Saturday. A motor fell off a Central Line tube train, knocking it off the rails as it entered Chancery Lane station. The train smashed into the platform, and its doors were ripped off as some carriages slammed into tunnel walls.
No one was killed, though dozens were injured. It could have been a catastrophe. London Underground management are gambling with passengers' lives. The priority on the tube is to prepare it for privatisation. And George Bain, who wants cuts in the fire service, is a director of Bombardier, one of the private firms lined up to profit from that privatisation. Bombardier now owns ABB. This is the firm which a decade ago supplied the trains now used on the Central Line.
Now Bombardier, part of the Metronet consortium, is set to take over Central Line maintenance. Tube workers spoke to Socialist Worker about what really happened on Saturday. They dare not be identified, such is the climate of fear and management bullying on the tube. They told us that:
Had the motor fallen off ten seconds earlier the train would have been in a tunnel and going faster, instead of slowing down for a station. People would have died.
Chancery Lane station is almost deserted on a Saturday. Had the incident occurred on a busy weekday, or even at the next station, Holborn, on a Saturday, people on crowded platforms would have been killed.
The train had been reported making strange noises at Leytonstone, eight stations earlier, and at intervening stations. Yet management ordered it to continue.
London Underground says it intended to stop the train and evacuate people at Holborn station, one stop after Chancery Lane. Tube workers simply don't believe that. They say it makes no sense to halt a train at Holborn. Stopping it earlier at Liverpool Street, where there are proper sidings, was the most obvious place.
London Underground management also say drivers can stop a train if they believe there is a safety problem. Drivers we spoke to reacted furiously to that. They agree with RMT rail union leader Bob Crow who this week said, 'London Underground are running a regime of fear in which drivers are routinely bullied and threatened with disciplinary action if they refuse to move trains on safety grounds.'
When tube drivers did stop trains during the firefighters' strikes because of safety concerns, management insisted the workers should carry on. Had Saturday's crash happened on a strike day, the army would not have been able to cope.
There is a longstanding problem with the motors coming loose or even falling off trains used on the tube's Central Line, and on the Waterloo & City Line. Before Christmas the unions asked for all trains running on the Central Line to be checked. Tube workers told us that management claim they did this in a weekend, and without putting all the 85 trains into depots where there are proper facilities to work under the trains. Tube workers don't believe this work was properly done.
Even management accepts that faulty axle bearings on Piccadilly Line trains could overheat and result in derailments. London Underground relies on passengers raising the alarm if they spot smoke.
Behind all this lies privatisation. The Central Line has been running as a 'shadow PPP', as if it were already privatised. Tube workers say this means performance targets based on 'business needs'. A train pulled out of service means the 'firm' operating the trains loses thousands of pounds.
Tube workers' union leaders, Aslef's Mick Rix and the RMT's Bob Crow, called for a halt to PPP on London Underground. They are right. If it is not stopped New Labour will be responsible for the carnage that will, at some point, be the inevitable result of putting profit before safety.