Transport Secretary places passenger safety ‘at risk’ with plans to privatise Network Rail
LABOUR slammed “irresponsible” government plans yesterday to privatise Network Rail as the party vowed to take railways back into public ownership.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling denied he was “privatising” Network Rail after he outlined plans to integrate railway infrastructure in the Commons.
Mr Grayling said the “franchising” plans will mean integrated operating teams overseeing both train services and infrastructure with an increased role for private companies.
The first wave is set to start in 2018 with South East and East Midlands railways and he said that a schedule for further projects would be announced at a later date.
Mr Grayling announced the reopening of the Oxford to Cambridge route with “private-sector involvement” in the new “East-West Rail Consortium” with work starting in the new year. At least £110 million was promised to accelerate the project in the Autumn Statement.
Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner hit out at plans to hand the running of the route to private companies, with Mr Grayling accusing Labour of wanting to “turn the clock back” by renationalising the railways — a move he claimed would mean the loss of “hundreds of millions” in investment from private companies.
But shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald warned that private companies would only engage with Mr Grayling’s plans if they could extract even more profit “at the expense of the taxpayer and commuters.”
He added that the measure would compromise passenger safety, pointing to a “series of fatal accidents” including Hatfield and Potters Bar which led to Network Rail being set up in the first place.
Mr McDonald accused the Transport Secretary of ignoring the lessons of the past, with the government on a “slippery slope to the bad old days of Railtrack.
“It’s time for railways to be run under public ownership” he said.
Labour MP for Bolsover Dennis Skinner ripped into Mr Grayling, saying that “he got the prisons job and wrecked the prison system and now he’s got the job in transport, he’s going to cause havoc there as well.”
Mr Grayling insisted that it was not privatisation that he was proposing but “teamwork.”
But RMT general secretary Mick Cash scoffed at Mr Grayling’s remarks, attacking him for “parading around the newsrooms with his lethal scheme to give outfits like Southern a chance to wreck rail infrastructure, as well as our train operations.”
He also accused the government of giving “favourable treatment” to Southern’s parent company as it refused to publish a report assessing its claims that exceptional circumstances were to blame to for the disruption of its services.
General union Unite warned that stripping Network Rail of control of Britain’s railway tracks was a “recipe for disaster” with serious implications for passenger safety.
Unite regional officer Hugh Roberts accused Mr Grayling of having a “short-term memory” on rail disasters and pointed to improvements made since Network Rail took over infrastructure and maintenance.
“Unite does not believe that privatisation dogma should trump passenger safety,” he said, warning that “failing Grayling” would bring chaos to the railways. “Today’s plans should hit the buffers.”
Mr McDonald called the plans an “irresponsible move” as Labour joined unions in calling for railways to be taken back into public ownership.
He attacked the train operating companies for running “abysmal services” and promised that, under Labour, there would be “long-term investment in the railway network.”
But “today’s announcement will take us further away from that,” he warned.