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Friday 4th
posted by Peter Lazenby in Britain

THE Labour-controlled Welsh Assembly was accused of planning a £5 billion sell-off of the country’s rail operations yesterday.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said the network could end up being run by state-owned rail operators from Holland, France, Germany or China.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash has written to Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones demanding that he immediately halt the plan to use upcoming rail franchise renewals to flog the system off to private firms.

Rail operations in Wales were privatised along with the rest of Britain’s network by the Tories under the then Prime Minister John Major in 1992/3.

But when the Welsh Assembly was established in 1998, the new body received devolved powers over the country’s transport system.

The Assembly has the authority to take rail operations into full public ownership and management, but RMT warned that instead the Assembly is opting for a “third party” system — including involving state operators from overseas.

Sixty per cent of Britain’s rail operations are already franchised to such operators.

In his letter to the First Minister, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said he met the Assembly’s transport body Transport for Wales (TfW) to discuss rail franchises.

He told the minister that the meeting was “a sham” and that the Assembly had already decided to keep the franchises in the private sector.

“I am staggered to find that it is a Welsh Labour government that is privatising Network Rail’s infrastructure and is acquiescing with a Westminster Tory government in the piecemeal privatisation and break up of Network Rail,” he wrote.

“It is equally disgraceful that this privatisation is one which will guarantee that the successful ‘third party bidder’ will be either the French, German, Dutch or Chinese government.”

Mr Cash said later: “The idea that this trade union will sit back while plans are being hatched for a £5bn scheme to hand Welsh railways lock, stock and barrel to private operators under the control of the Dutch, German, French or Chinese states is ridiculous.”

The Welsh Assembly had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.