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Railwatch 087 - March 2001

What should the future be?

The three rail unions launched a national campaign in January to persuade the Government to take Railtrack back into public ownership in the wake of the "post-Hatfield chaos".

A petition is being circulated calling for Railtrack to be taken back into "an appropriate form of public ownership in the interests of rail safety and the efficient management of the network".

The unions say such a measure is "essential in order to restore passenger and commercial confidence in the railways."

A 75% majority of the public, according to opinion polls, agrees with the unions.

ASLEF general secretary Mick Rix said: "The Hatfield disaster and the subsequent chaos have proved that Railtrack cannot be trusted to run our railways safely and efficiently. It is time to take back the track.

"Labour's manifesto must contain a reference to bringing the railway back into some form of public control and accountability. A broad and powerful campaign can make this a reality.

"It will also ensure that we have not forgotten those who died or suffered injury, including our members, as a result of rail privatisation.

"They are the real casualties of the profit and greed merchants that have taken over and blighted our industry."

TSSA general secretary Richard Rosser said: "This vital campaign will unite rail workers, passengers and politicians to put our railways back together again." RMT assistant general secretary said: "Privatisation of the railways has proved to be an unmitigated disaster."

The unions say privatisation has failed to deliver proper investment in safety and train protection, proper maintenance and any strategic planning while producing big dividends for shareholders.

More than 100 MPs have supported the call for Railtrack to be returned to public ownership. But in February Strategic Rail Authority chairman Sir Alastair Morton said: "We must make this structure work. It must be evolution. The question is how radical should evolution be?"

For more information: Campaign Co-ordinator Jenny Smith, Take Back the Track, 9 Arkwright Road, Hampstead London NW3 6AB. Tel: 020 7317 8600. Email: Take_Back_The_Track@aslef.org.uk

There has been reluctance on the part of many rail campaigners to suggest further disruptive reorganisation but the Government's argument that the present structure must be made to work looks untenable now.

We have had a series of rail crashes, we have high fares, unreliable trains, appalling information systems and very little action on the ground on reopening and expansion schemes.

With Lord Macdonald at the helm of transport policy - understating the importance of rail and exaggerating the value of road transport- there seems little willingness in the Government to make the present system work properly.

A Where next for the railways? report by the Platform wing of Transport 2000 was published this month to stimulate debate.

Platform is also staging a public meeting on the issue in Sheffield on 23 April (details from jonathan@transport2000.demon.co.uk)

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.

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