Crow blames staff cuts for shutdown
A transport union chief has attributed today's virtual rush-hour shutdown on the railways to staff numbers being "hacked to the bone".
There were simply not enough staff to clear tracks and keep trains running, said RMT general secretary Bob Crow.
But rail infrastructure company Network Rail (NR) responded by saying it was impossible to run services in hurricane-force winds and that "lives would have been put at risk" if trains had operated.
Mr Crow said: " Since the last big storm in 1987 the rail network has axed over 2,000 engineering staff and has hacked back investment in drainage, embankments and tree clearance.
"That policy is coming back to haunt them and will leave hundreds of thousands of passengers who pay a fortune in fares unable to get to work in the morning. That is a shocking reflection on the state of our railways."
He went on: "We pay tribute to those Rail, Maritime and Transport workers who have been out there overnight in horrific conditions battling to keep services running with inadequate capacity and resources. Those workers are heroes today but face the continuing threat to their jobs tomorrow. That is disgraceful.
"The past 24 hours have shown that there are not enough staff to clear tracks and keep trains running as numbers have been hacked to the bone. We barely have enough crew to cope with routine engineering works let alone emergencies as the shutdown of services across the South and up into the Midlands has confirmed.
"The RMT demands an end to the plans to axe hundreds more track staff and calls for an increase in both crew numbers and investment in infrastructure to avoid the kind of unprecedented panic measures we have seen over night."
An NR spokesman said: "The decision to cut back on morning rush-hour services was taken on safety grounds, and safety grounds alone. You cannot run trains during hurricane-force winds. We would have been putting lives at risk.
"The weather has been severe. We sat down with the weather people yesterday and we heard the forecasts. We have had as many as 80 trees down which have blocked lines and brought down overhead lines. I don't know what Bob Crow is basing his assumpitons on."
Mr Crow said his union had had reports this morning "of bus companies sending vehicles and drivers out on to roads that are clearly downright dangerous, and strewn with trees and debris, without a thought for staff or passenger safety".
He added that the RMT was "taking that appalling situation up with the companies involved".
Later, Mr Crow said it suited train companies " not to run services and to lay the blame at the door of Network Rail (NR)".
He went on: "That way their armies of lawyers can claim compensation back from the publicly-owned NR and leave the taxpayer to pick up the tab. That's the way that the privatisation racket works and the current chaos rams that down passengers' throats.
"Money that could have been spent tackling the half-billion-pound backlog on rail drainage works is instead being ripped off by greedy train companies.
"While thousands of essential and safety-critical rail track jobs have been cut, the boardrooms of the train operating companies are awash with spare cash that is being bled out of exactly the sort of capacity and maintenance works that could have mitigated against the impact of today's weather."