BLAME for the ongoing disruption of rail services in England over the need for a safety-critical staff member as well as the driver on all trains lies directly with the Tory government.
Theresa May’s MPs, the train-operating companies and their media friends will concentrate their fire on rail union RMT for confirming strike action in November, but the union and its members have no alternative.
For the union, the safety of staff members and passengers has to be paramount while the rail privateers and government ministers are obsessed with private profit.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling ought to have a prime responsibility to the travelling public, but he has directed the private companies owned by overseas national operators to cut corners on safety.
Driver-only operation is a system that works when nothing extraordinary takes place. When things go wrong, especially on trains going at over 100mph, it is essential to have a safety-critical staff member.
Were Grayling interested in coming to an agreement with the union, it’s there for the asking.
Both the Scottish and Welsh governments have achieved negotiated settlements with RMT and there is no reason why all the franchise contractors in England could not do likewise.
Grayling’s obduracy is the main obstacle, together with his proclivity for employing people, such as Peter Wilkinson, with a similarly abrasive attitude to trade unionism.
Wilkinson’s threats against trade unionists, claiming, on taking up his post as Department for Transport (DfT) rail passenger services director, that there would be punch-ups with the workforce and that he would “break” guards and drivers who oppose his reckless plans, have been well-publicised.
The revelation that the National Audit Office (NAO) is investigating earlier possible conflict of interest between his companies, including First Class Partnerships, and his role as a DfT franchise consultant raises further disquiet.
The sooner that the NAO reports and safety returns to top priority the better.