The great privatisation scandal
Railtrack bonanza despite disaster
THE CRISIS on Britain's privatised railways deepened this week, just as the government pressed ahead with its insane "Railtrack in the sky" plan to privatise air traffic control. Rail bosses say many inner city train routes will not be back to normal until next Easter. They admit it could be 20 years before all trains are running properly again.
A northern businessman pointed out last week that it was now quicker to fly from London to Paris and then on to Leeds by air than travel from London to Leeds by train. Some rail journeys now take longer than the same journey did by horse and cart 150 years ago.
Yet Railtrack investors are expecting a windfall out of this disaster. A Financial Times article last week predicted "large growth"in the company's profits. By 2005-6 Railtrack's profits are expected to hit �1.2 billion, or some �3 million a day.
Over-reaction, Mr Blair?
A BUSY passenger train derailed last Sunday, as Tony Blair accused people of over-reacting to the Hatfield crash and demanded that speed restrictions be lifted. Sunday's Virgin London Euston to Glasgow service came off the tracks near Motherwell in Lanarkshire. Luckily it was only going at 15 miles an hour, otherwise it could have been another Hatfield. Yet on Tuesday Blair and Prescott met rail bosses to ask whether they had gone too far in safety checks.
THE PRIVATISED rail companies are demanding public money to shore up profits. They say that they are set to lose �300 million because of the rail crisis but will only get half that back from Railtrack. They want the government to stump up the rest out of public funds. Those holding out the begging bowl include Go-Ahead, which operates Thames Trains, involved in the Paddington crash.
- EMERGENCY safety work promised after Hatfield is not being carried out.
A senior rail source admitted to the Sunday Express, "Engineering trains are leaving the depots overnight carrying 30 rail sections to be installed, but they are returning next morning with most of them still on board because sub-contractors employed by Railtrack are failing to turn up."
Drivers see red
A RAIL safety summit held by the RMT union last Friday heard how drivers were being snowed under with speed restriction instructions, leading to safety worries. Figures show that last month 53 signals were passed at red. It is a testimonial to drivers that more red lights were not overshot, given the pressure on them. Tony West of Aslef told the conference, "One driver has to read six pages of instructions before he sets out."
- Aslef union Eurotunnel drivers struck for the second time on Monday over union recognition. They are due to strike every Monday in the run-up to Christmas.
Tube march call
NEW LABOUR is ploughing ahead with the privatisation of London Underground. The list of "preferred bidders" is due to be announced at the end of December, with contracts due to be signed by early February.
The rail unions are opposed to the sell off, and are trying to pressure the TUC to back a mass demonstration in January. John Leech of the RMT union executive told TUC leader John Monks at the rail summit last Friday, "We are wanting to tap the vein of anger of people who have had enough. Will you lead the charge with us? Together we can win."
John Leech told Socialist Worker, "We are discussing a march calling for renationalisation of the railways and the abandonment of tube privatisation. "We want to see a march in the streets the size of the Countryside Alliance's."