by Daphne Liddle

RAIL unions last week warned that plans by the Con-Dem Coalition to reform the rail industry could cost more than 20,000 jobs and have come together to an Action for Rail campaign, which was launched with a Day of Action on Monday, with 100,000 leaflets given out at major railway stations throughout the country.

In London the campaign was launched with TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan, RMT general secretary Bob Crow, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes and Unite national officer Julia Long at London Euston Station at 8.30am.

Other stations included in the leafleting campaign included Manchester Piccadilly, Plymouth, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

According to the McNulty Review this could lead to about 20,800 job losses, which include 6,800 rail guards and booking clerks, platform staff, 7,500 in catering and maintenance and 6,300 signalling workers.

As part of its plans for the future of the rail industry, the government is asking train operating companies (TOCs) and Network Rail to outline how they will make cost reductions in line with the recommendations of the Rail Value for Money review led by Sir Roy McNulty. More than a quarter of these savings — £260 million a year — will come through staffing cuts.

Surveys consistently suggest that a lack of staffing is one of the key concerns of rail passengers, and more than 10,000 commuters and train users have so far registered their opposition to staff cuts in response to union campaigns.

The McNulty Review calls for the closure of 750 Category E (or lightly-staffed) station booking offices around Britain. Leaked Department for Transport emails indicate that agreement has already been reached with one train operator, London Midland, to completely close or severely reduce opening hours at ticket offices at 86 of its 90 stations, leaving many deserted at all hours and leading to the loss of around 100 staff.

These cuts will go ahead in the face of opposition from 18,000 London Midland passengers who responded to a public consultation petition against the closures, as well as the West Midlands integrated transport authority, Centro.

More than 100 Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have already signed a motion in Parliament registering their concerns, including two former Lib-Dem leaders — Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell.

Under the new government plans, TOCs will be provided with longer franchises of up to 15 years and will be given much greater freedom over fare setting and train schedules. Unions and campaigners fear this will lead to closure and reductions of unprofitable services in rural areas.

TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government vision of a rail industry with deserted stations, closed ticket offices and trains with no staff is one that appeals to train operators seeking to cut costs and maximise profits — but train passengers are appalled.

“The public wants the help, reassurance and safety that rail staff provide, which is why so many passengers have responded to our campaign and have expressed their anger at the plans to cull the rail industry workforce.”

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “This Government, using the McNulty Rail Review as cover, is hell-bent on a policy of vandalising and de-staffing the railways regardless of the consequences for both staff and the travelling public.

“RMT has already exposed the fact that London Midland, the trail-blazer for these policies, stands to pocket millions of pounds in additional profits from its ticket office closure programme while passengers are left to take their chances in a criminals’ paradise.”