Belfast Telegraph

Rail union leaders brand privatisation a 'spectacular failure'

Rail union leaders have called for the industry to be brought back under public ownership after branding privatisation a "spectacular failure".

MPs were told that the current bitter dispute over the role of conductors on Southern was evidence that the current franchising system was not working.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), and Mick Whelan of Aslef said they had no input into the award of franchises, accusing the Department for Transport (DfT) of "token consultation".

They addressed the Transport Select Committee after another day of travel disruption, this time affecting Thameslink and East Midlands Trains because of over-running engineering work.

Southern passengers also complained of ongoing problems with late running and shortened trains - even though no more industrial action is planned by the RMT over the conductors' dispute until next week.

The two union leaders told the committee that the Government was driving the Southern dispute, through the DfT.

Mr Cash said the issue remained that the union wanted a safety-critical person on every train, adding that he was angered by moves to "demonise" workers.

Mr Whelan said there was little regulatory comeback on franchises which failed to deliver, adding: "I don't believe in privatisation - it has been a spectacular failure."

Mr Cash said £1 billion a year could be saved by bringing the railways back under public ownership, telling MPs that fewer firms were now bidding for franchises anyway.

The industry was now run by "serial monopolies" with no direct competition, MPs were told.

Mr Cash launched a public call for a direct meeting with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in a bid to break the deadlocked Southern dispute.

He said: "I am calling publicly, here and now, for a direct meeting between Chris Grayling, the unions and Govia (Southern's owners) to try and move the dispute on and address the core issues at the heart of this rail failing operation.

"We have written to the Transport Secretary asking for that meeting and he we have been knocked back. I am repeating the call to Mr Grayling again today and passengers and staff alike will be rightly angry if he continues to refuse to get involved when his department is clearly calling the shots on Southern Rail."

Mr Cash said he could not understand why MPs representing areas served by Southern were accepting a worse service than constituents in areas where deals have been struck with other rail firms on having a second member of staff on trains - such as ScotRail, Great Western and Virgin East Coast.

He told MPs that RMT members had signed new contracts agreeing to a different role on Southern "under duress", stressing that the union was still in dispute.

Mr Whelan said his union had a long standing policy of objecting to driver-only trains, telling the committee there were sometimes "blind spots" on platforms so that drivers could not see down the entire length of a train.

Jo Kaye, director for network strategy at Network Rail, and Paul Harwood, planning director for NR in the South, said lessons had been learned from delays caused by improvement work at London Bridge station.

Mr Harwood said the work was among the most significant carried out by NR and he admitted some of the assumptions about disruption were wrong.

MPs were told that lessons learned will be taken forward to planned works at Euston and Waterloo stations in London.