Socialist Worker

Train lines are in chaos—but Tory Chris Grayling wants more privatisation

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2623

Northern Rail was at the heart of timetable chaos earlier this year

Northern Rail was at the heart of timetable chaos earlier this year (Pic: Hugh Llewelyn)


The chaos of rail privatisation has been laid bare by a new report from regulator Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

Its findings come from an inquiry into a widespread transport meltdown across much of Britain’s rail network in May of this year.

ORR said failures from the Department for Transport’s (DfT) led to the “collapse” of services.

It was because timetable changes were rushed through, meaning hundreds of services were cancelled, delayed or replaced—sometimes for weeks.

Rail bosses “placed engineering and planning concerns ahead of serving its passengers,” says ORR.

But the Tory culture of privatisation is ultimately to blame.

Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway—which runs Southern, Great Northern and Thameslink trains—took months to recover.

The ORR blasts train bosses, and said people were “badly treated on a daily basis by the operators they have paid in the expectation of a decent service”.

The problems with the new timetable arose because not enough time was allocated to fixing problems, says ORR.

And Network Rail failed to notice this, or to “take sufficient action to manage the risks or the consequences.”

The report is another blow for the hated Tory transport secretary Chris Grayling, who has promised a “root and branch” overhaul of rail.

The fat cat controllers who stole the railways
The fat cat controllers who stole the railways
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To conduct the review, he’s drafted in millionaire deputy chairman of John Lewis Partnership Keith Williams.

It says Williams is holding a “sweeping review” to “ensure our vital rail system continues to benefit passengers and support a stronger, fairer economy.”

But the remit of the review rules out what would benefit passengers most—nationalisation. It’s committed to developing the “commercial model to ensure improved services”.

After British Rail was privatised in 1994, companies bid to run different routes, with infrastructure maintained and managed by Network Rail. But the Williams review is looking at “bringing track and train closer together”, potentially opening the door for more privatisation.

The review comes shortly after data showed August saw train punctuality hit a 12-year low. Some 14 percent of services missed the target of arriving within five minutes of scheduled time.

The crisis of the railways is a result of running it for profit, rather than organising it on the basis of public need.

That’s why fare hikes rise faster than wages, why rail fatcats want to get rid of guards, and why they organise timetables that don’t work. 

It’s also why the East Coast line was transferred back into public ownership after Virgin and Stagecoach bosses didn’t make as much money as they wanted to.

Privatisation means bosses get to trouser all the profits, while ordinary people suffer from delays caused by aging rolling stock, unrealistic timetables and understaffing.

To seriously address chaos of a transport system organised by bosses, the trains need to be brought back into public ownership.


Walkout at Northern

Workers on Northern Rail struck over safety last Saturday.

The RMT union members are part of a battle against driver only operation (DOO) trains. The union has called fresh dates after negotiations broke down last week.

Workers are set to strike on three Saturdays—6, 13, and 20 October. And workers on South West Railway are planning to strike on Friday and Saturday of next week.


Tube strike on Picadilly 

Tube workers on the Picadilly Line were set to hold a 48-hour strike from Wednesday.

RMT union members are fighting over bosses’ health and safety failures and the abuse of policies and procedures.


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