The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 9th December 2016

Grayling targets Network Rail

TRANSPORT Secretary Chris Grayling on Tuesday announced a major overhaul of the way railways operate in England that has been condemned by the rail union RMT as a step towards the piecemeal privatisation of Network Rail.

Grayling began by claiming that it is nonsense that the management of the rail infrastructure — the rails, stations, signalling and so on — should be separated from the management of the trains.

This is something that the rail unions, passenger groups and all progressives have always asserted since the first plans for rail privatisation emerged in the early 1990s.

Grayling speaks as though he has only just realised this: “I intend to start bringing back together the operation of track and train on our railways.

“We need to change the relationship between the tracks and the trains on the railway”

But his answer is not to bring the whole operation back into public ownership and control, but to create “joint management teams” for each franchise that will involve representatives Network Rail and the train operating companies. The changes will start when each franchise is renewed in the future.

The first new joint management teams will come into operation when the South Eastern and the East Midlands franchises are re-let in 2018.

When John Major privatised the rail network in 1993 the infrastructure was handed over to the private company Railtrack and this proved a disaster. The company absorbed huge Government subsidies but still made a complete mess of the job and demanded more money, whilst their profits soared.

The Government was hostage to Railtrack’s continuing demands and after the Hatfield rail crash in 2002 it was brought back into public ownership as Network Rail.

The RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, condemned Grayling’s plans as “a slippery slope to privatisation and the break-up of Network Rail,” and said that the union was “deeply concerned”.

“We don’t want to go back to the Railtrack days,” he said. “It’s quite clear they want to break up Network Rail, they want to privatise the rail infrastructure.

“We don’t want to go back to the days of rail disasters [such as at] Hatfield and Potters Bar — that’s what happens when you get the private sector in charge of our infrastructure.”

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told the BBC that the Government: “appears to be contemplating is yet further complexity, yet further fragmentation, and more opportunities for private entities to extract value out of our railway system.”

Meanwhile the RMT staged a picket outside the Policy Exchange in Westminster on Tuesday where Grayling delivered his keynote speech.

The union vented its anger at Grayling for his rejection of an offer by Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club to mediate in the long-running Southern Rail dispute. The speech coincided with the latest RMT strike in that dispute.

The football club made the offer after Southern Rail, on Friday 18th November, left hundreds of fans stranded after a match when it cancelled trains at very short notice whilst a game was in process at the Amex stadium.

This left fans unable to get home. Some claim that they were forced to sleep rough on a cold night; others claim they were forced to walk through the night to reach their homes.

In addition, Brighton and Hove Albion has suffered significantly reduced attendances for many months because of Southern Rail cutting its services as a tactic in its war against the RMT and the dispute over the company’s attempt to impose Driver Only Operation (DOO).

Mick Cash said: “RMT made it clear that the union was prepared to take up the offer of talks between ourselves, Southern Rail and Chris Grayling as suggested by Brighton and Hove Albion FC.

“The fact that that offer has been turned down flat by both the Government and GTR [Govia Thameslink Railway, the company that runs Southern Rail] shows in clear daylight that neither of them have any intention of resolving this dispute.”

The union cites delays that will be caused by DOO.

A new notice issued to train drivers by GTR tells drivers what to do in the event of DOO equipment being “degraded”, including in-cab train dispatch monitors not working.

The instructions demand that the driver secure the train, exit the cab and check the platform is clear before then returning to the train to close the doors. Once the doors are closed drivers then return to the platform for a final check before returning to the driving cab and proceeding.

In the event that there are more than eight carriages, or the whole train is not visible to the driver, the new instruction also demands that drivers walk down the length of the train on the platform closing doors as they go before returning to the front of the train.