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From The Socialist newspaper, 29 June 2011

McNulty report points to further fragmentation and privatisation

Workers say: Renationalise the railways!

Mike Wheeler
TSSA rail union, personal capacity
RMT protest against Tube privatisation, photo Paul Mattsson

RMT protest against Tube privatisation, photo Paul Mattsson

The McNulty report on railway 'value for money' stands alongside Lansley's NHS 'reforms' as a brazen attack on our public services by this aggressive government.

Potentially, this report is the most destructive thing to happen to our railways since the Railways Act of 1993.

The government gave Sir Roy McNulty the task of finding out why the subsidy levels that are received by Britain's railway companies are 35% higher than in the state-owned railways across Europe, and also to find out why that subsidy has doubled in real terms between 1997 and now. In essence why are privatised railways so expensive?

The main cause the report identifies is the fragmented nature of the industry. Private companies build in multiple tiers of inefficient duplication. Each level is draining profits out of the industry and the taxpayers' pockets into the coffers of the huge holding companies.

But McNulty's answer to the problems caused by fragmentation and privatisation is yet more fragmentation and privatisation.

The rail unions guessed correctly where the cuts would hit. It is made very clear with a stark statement: "Changes in terms and conditions (for rail staff), especially drivers, will reduce costs".

There is also an attack on the hard-won final salary pension scheme. It says changes will only work if the staff "buy-in". So they are asking staff to not only accept this fate but to help them reduce their terms and conditions and reduce their pension.

Millionaire Philip Hammond, secretary of state for transport, has the audacity to claim that the solutions he wanted were not ideological but focussed on delivering for passengers (freight is absent from their thinking).

One of the 12 "barriers to efficiency" is "unproductive relationships", the main ones being with the railway unions. So there are a series of measures that are set to almost remove the unions from the railway.


The new chief executive for Network Rail, David Higgins, has already begun a series of devolution projects. This is separating control from a central Network Rail to regional Infrastructure Managers with separate accounting. This will, in effect, create mini Railtracks!

But McNulty does not think that this goes far enough and proposes to hand over control of infrastructure, track and signalling from Network Rail, a not-for-profit company, to profit-making Train Operating Companies (TOCs).

TOCs initially proposed are Scotrail, Southeastern, South West Trains, First Great Western, a merged Northern Rail/Trans Pennine Route and the Greater Anglia franchises. The Greater Anglia franchise is described as the "first cab off the rank".

These steps take us back to the days of Railtrack who presided over the deaths at Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield and Potters Bar. All of these disasters involved cost cutting. This time it will be worse as there will be 'light touch' legislation.

Further attacks are proposed to rural and suburban lines that have been described as "sucking in tax-payers' money".

But this report fails to understand the role and advantages of a fully integrated public transport system. There are suggestions of downgrading lines to light rail or trams, with staff multi-tasking.

Other attacks include moving the railways to Driver Operator Only. Most trains are proposed to be unguarded and have the potential to become unsafe.

What is needed is a publicly run transport system that is affordable and efficient and only a publicly run not-for-profit service can deliver this.

The rail unions and passengers need to join together to stop the attacks. We need to go further and call for nationalisation of our railways. We must publicise the fact that the reason our railways cost more to run is due to the high profits made from the companies grabbing the public subsidy.

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