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Privatisation Has Ruined Rail Safety
A RAILWAY engineer told The Socialist how the safety of passengers and staff has been compromised under privatisation and explained rail workers' attitude towards disaster such as that at Potters Bar.
"IT WILL almost certainly be the poor sod at the bottom who checked those points who'll get clobbered over Potters Bar. They won't even look at corporate responsibility but blame the worker who's probably only been half-trained to do the job.
When you check points and bolts you have to torque up the bolts and make sure they're tight. That almost certainly wasn't done, you can't check them visually. You have to use a torque wrench.
Most rail employees say "Bob Crow was right - you have to renationalise the whole system." On BR you had track walkers as well as people properly testing the bolts, it was all tested. They weren't on the time pressures like contractors are now. Its 'time is money' to them.
Under BR the Divisional Civil Engineer and the Area Civil Engineer were 100% responsible for the track in their area, so they made sure people were trained.
The companies now have a schedule of jobs to do. The contractors rely on part timers and virtually casual labour for larger jobs at weekends. BR had a large core workforce with fully-trained contractors for big jobs - and it had its own direct labour organisation.
BR wasn't perfect but the private contractors cut their core workforce to the bone.
Inspectors and inspection have gone out of the window. These were experienced engineers who did the job for years.
After the Hatfield crash, Corbett [then the Railtrack boss] admitted that the BR engineers had gone. He also admitted they wouldn't come back because they don't agree with the system.
Rail Safety is an arms-length subsidiary and it hasn't got the engineers to do the surveillance and auditing necessary to make sure the contract conditions are being fully met.
Railtrack carry out audits on all railway contractors. But their auditors don't ask questions and haven't got the in-depth knowledge and expertise to dig around.
Under BR when you signed on as a ganger you were on probation for six months. You would undergo training throughout the entire six months. Now you get a couple of days on this and a couple of days on that and you get a certificate saying you're competent. It's crazy.
Everybody who's been in the industry for any length of time thinks that the whole system is a mess and should be renationalised.
When Byers put Railtrack into administration, a wave of relief swept through workers in the industry because they thought at last something bloody sensible was being done. But it doesn't look like anything will change.
When Bob Crow said take the whole lot into public ownership that struck a chord."
Why the Rail Unions Must Strike
AFTER THIS disaster, the RMT and other rail unions must take decisive action in the fight to re-nationalise our railways and stop PPP going ahead on the tube.
Bill Johnson, RMT
How many more disasters like Potters Bar and Hatfield are waiting to happen? How long will it be before Jarvis or Balfour Beatty fail to notice the track breaking up 100 feet underground?
RMT should call an immediate ballot of all rail industry members to take action to demand re-nationalisation of the railways and an end to PPP on the tube.
Members across train operating companies, Railtrack and London Underground have no confidence that they can work in safety if maintenance is contracted out to the private sector.
No 're-organisation' of the system of sub-contracting is acceptable. It does not matter which company wins the contracts. The problem remains - profit and cost cutting is incompatible with a safe railway!
For tube workers Potters Bar is a warning of what privatisation holds in store for us. We cannot allow PPP to go ahead after this latest disaster.
Every sane voice in the country is asking how the government can possibly proceed with PPP by handing responsibility for tube safety to the firms responsible for Hatfield and Potters Bar.
We should take strike action across the industry and hold a demo in London, not a lobby or a candlelight vigil, but a demonstration aimed at mobilising the public.
With the public in uproar at the record of Railtrack and its sub-contractors rail and tube bosses will think twice about running to the courts to try to block strike action but even if they do we should defy them.
The question now is not dare we strike but dare we work on a privatised rail or tube system.
The Dangerous World Of Work
A UNITED Nations report says that two million people worldwide die every year from work-related accidents or illness - that's one every 15 seconds! That's nearly double the figures from two years before that report.
It's also higher than the number who are killed by war. 350,000 people died from workplace accidents, 340,000 from hazardous substances and around 100,000 from asbestos.
In Britain, one of the most dangerous industries is construction, including work repairing rail tracks. The Crown Prosecution Service recently said they have "insufficient evidence" to place manslaughter charges after the death in October 2000 of Michael Mungovan, a 22-year old Irish student.
Michael was killed while with an employment agency that sent him to work for Balfour Beatty on a railway track in London. Friends claim that Michael was given insufficient training before starting the job.
Michael Mungovan's case has many similarities with that of Simon Jones, who was killed in 1998 on his first day of work at Shoreham docks.
The Simon Jones Memorial Campaign have produced a film Not This Time - the story of the Simon Jones Memorial Campaign. We will review that film in a future issue.
In The Socialist 17 May 2002: