LAST WEEK Tory minority government Transport Secretary Grayling announced that the privately-run East Coast Mainline has collapsed again and will be ‘temporarily renationalised’ – to which the rail unions were united in their response and demanded the permanent renationalisation of the entire network.
This week started with what the RMT described as ‘Meltdown Monday’, which the RMT said ‘should spell the end of the privatised chaos on Britain’s railways’, and will end with another two days of strike action on Northern Rail.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said on Monday: ‘The union is picking up reports from both Northern and GTR of a hopeless lack of planning, combined with a shortage of crew and fleet, which has reduced the Monday morning journey to a nightmare for many passengers.
‘It is our members dealing with the anger at the sharp end, not the well-paid top brass from Arriva and Govia who are responsible for this Meltdown Monday on our railways. ‘Both of these companies have sought to compromise safety and access by hacking back on critical staff and it is no surprise to RMT that they can’t be trusted with the massive logistical challenges of bringing in new timetables.
‘Frankly I wouldn”t trust the private train operators to run a bath let alone our vital rail routes.
‘After Virgin/Stagecoach were kicked off the East Coast last week it’s time for the rest of these racketeers to be sent packing as well and for our railways to be run by the public sector as a public service.’
This week is finishing with two more days of strike action on Northern Rail – today and Saturday – in a long-running fight over guards and safety. The RMT confirmed on Tuesday that further strike action by all Arriva Rail North Conductor, Conductor Instructor and Train Driver members will go ahead this week over attacks on the role of the safety-critical guard and the extension of Driver Only Operation in the name of increased profits.
RMT leader Cash said: ‘It is a tribute to the determination and professionalism of RMT members on Arriva Rail North that they have remained rock solid for over a year now in what is a battle to put public safety before private profit. ‘The next phase of action on Thursday and Saturday goes ahead exactly as planned as the company refuse point blank to engage in talks.
‘German-owned Northern Rail want to run half a million trains a year without a safety critical guard on board in a move that would wreck both safety and access to services and they should listen to their front-line staff and pull back from that plan immediately. ‘We have seen again this week that Arriva are not capable of running a railway and have chosen to declare war on passengers and staff alike in the drive for increased profits while safety, access and reliability are left to rot.
‘RMT has agreed arrangements in Wales and Scotland that enshrine the guard guarantee.
‘If it’s good enough for Wales and Scotland to have safe rail services it should be good enough for the rest of Britain. ‘We thank the public for their support and understanding throughout this dispute over rail safety and access and the union remains ready for talks.’
Drivers on London Underground’s (LU) Jubilee Line plan to hold two strikes in June in a row about new timetables. Members of the RMT and Aslef unions will walk out for 24 hours on 6 and 14 June.
RMT leader Cash said the new timetables ‘ride roughshod’ over rostering agreements and that drivers are ‘angry at the impact on work-life balance’.
Aslef official Finn Brennan said: ‘The new rosters increase the number of Saturdays drivers have to work, breaking a previous arrangement made during a 2015/16 pay agreement. ‘Despite the rhetoric from City Hall about wanting to work with trade unions to avoid conflict, senior management. have ignored every offer to sit down and discuss this issue.’ Cash accused LU managers of being ‘out of control and hell-bent on imposing change through diktat rather than through the established negotiating machinery.’
A strike on sections of the District Line is also due to be held by Aslef members on the same dates as part of a separate dispute. The TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs Association) this week condemned the new appointment of Andrew Haines as Chief Executive of Network Rail.
TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes said revelations on Monday that Haines is still a non-executive director of Eversholt Rail, a private company which leases old rolling stock to train operating companies for profit is an obvious conflict of interest.
Cortes said: ‘Haines should have known better than to accept the highest paid public post in our land without first foregoing his private business interest in the rail industry. ‘It’s bad enough that he has ignored his clash of interest. But it is moral outrage that Eversholt’s parent company is based offshore in the Cayman Islands.
‘His appointment shows that a lazy culture of crony capitalism is alive, well placed and flourishing because making companies that make profits here, pay taxes here is just not – and never will be – any sort of Tory priority. ‘Coming in the very same week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry opens, this news is another sad reminder to the British public there is one rule for the rich elite and another for working class people who are sick – to death in the case of the poor Grenfell victims – of putting up with an establishment rigged against them.
‘Haines must today (Tuesday) renounce his private rail interests which are milking-money from the public bits of our rail network into his own personal finance initiative. ‘If he doesn’t, his backing for what some might say are tax evasion schemes, will show he’s just another unscrupulous member of the rail robber baron club and should be booted from his job before being paid a penny out of the pubic purse.
‘Right now, Haines’ appointment looks like a shot in the arm for crony capitalism. ‘Theresa May should step in again this week to over rule yet another bad decision made by her Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling and tell Haines to clean up or clear out.’
• The Greater Manchester mayor has called for the government to investigate claims that Northern Rail knows about ‘likely’ cancellations in advance and makes a financial choice to pay the fine rather than provide the service. Andy Burnham said last week that a whistleblower has alleged the rail privateer is choosing to pay fines for cancelled services rather than employ staff on rest days.
It comes after a series of public exchanges in which Burnham has criticised Northern’s ‘unacceptably poor’ service. An internal email, provided by an anonymous Northern employee and published by Burnham, allegedly identified a number of services which ‘are likely to be cancelled’.
The mayor said the allegations ‘appear to contradict’ Northern’s public claims that it does not plan cancellations in advance. ‘If true, these revelations are very worrying. It now looks like Northern have simply not been straight with the Greater Manchester public,’ Burnham said.
The whistleblower also alleged that Northern pulled out of an agreement with drivers around payment for working on rest days, leading to a shortage of staff. Despite being fined for the number of cancelled services, the company had still benefited as a result, it was claimed. A situation where imposed fines are more lenient than the cost of the company doing actually their job would be a farce,’ said Burnham. In a letter to Grayling, Burnham insisted that these ‘serious allegations… warrant further investigation’.