Britain's railways and rail trade unions have a dark shadow hanging over them. It's called the McNulty report and it threatens jobs, safety and the industry's very integrity.
Transport Secretary Lord Adonis commissioned Sir Roy McNulty in new Labour's dying days to examine the industry and make recommendations to "improve value for money to passengers and the taxpayer."
McNulty worked out that railways in Britain are 30 per cent dearer than elsewhere in Europe and concluded simplistically that "efficiencies" to that tune should be implemented.
A joint rail union submission, Save our Railways, concluded that McNulty's recommendations would result in tens of thousands of jobs being lost, affecting train guards, station and ticket office staff, as well as safety-critical infrastructure and operational workers.
It would lead to the break-up of Network Rail and an end to its not-for-profit status, bringing further fragmentation, inefficiency and impaired safety.
Crucially, the private train operating companies would enjoy even greater commercial freedom, leading to higher fares, service cuts and more crowded trains.
With such a vista of enhanced profits for privateers and misery for staff and passengers, it was inevitable that the conservative coalition government would welcome McNulty, throwing in the added spice of longer franchises for the train operators.
However, the rail unions remain adamantly opposed to this approach.
"We are determined to do everything we can to fight back against McNulty," says TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes, whose union is holding its annual conference in Cardiff this week.
"We're working together with all the other rail unions and we also have a very positive agenda, because we will be making the case of why the rail industry should be brought back into public ownership," he says.
"The unions have jointly commissioned research into what benefits would arise as a result of ending fragmentation and bringing the unions back under democratic accountability and control."
Cortes sees public opinion as a "wonderful ally" in the fight against the McNulty agenda since "the vast majority of passengers really don't want to see stations unstaffed.
"They don't want to see the government or anyone else play fast and loose with safety on our railways and the reality is that if McNulty is fully implemented it could have a very serious effect on railway safety."
He is adamant that unstaffed stations could become magnets for anti-social behaviour, crime and vandalism and that women and people with disabilities would be deterred from using the railways in such circumstances.
Cortes describes his union as "possibly pioneers" for deciding last year to have a new strategic focus by not only talking to other unions but also setting up a new community organising structure.
"We decided to spend money trying to get the people who depend on the services operated by our members involved in campaigns to save those same services," he explains.
This has meant helping groups protesting against possible closure of booking offices across the country, doing community work in Derby to galvanise opposition to the possible closure of Bombardier and playing an active role in the Sack Boris campaign intended to replace London Tory Mayor Boris Johnson with Ken Livingstone.
While the latter campaign wasn't successful, it did see hundreds of mainly young people, many of whom had never been union members, getting involved in a broad coalition in favour of dumping Johnson over a whole raft of issues, public transport being among the most important.
"We intend to continue working with that coalition because, at the end of the day, we might not have won the election but we built enough support there to oppose any changes that Johnson intends to introduce that will be detrimental to public transport and to Londoners in general," Cortes says.
The new general secretary, who took over from Gerry Doherty at the beginning of this year, appreciates the disappointment felt by Labour supporters at their government's failure to rectify rail privatisation during 13 years in office.
However, he is "extremely hopeful" of getting change in Labour policy if and when Ed Miliband becomes the next Labour prime minister and Maria Eagle takes over at transport.
"Let's not forget that the policy of the Labour Party is in favour of public ownership of the railways," he says, referring to the party's annual conference decision.
Cortes insists that part of the rail unions' campaign is to ensure that they get clear indications from Labour that, on being returned to government, it will end the "madness of privatisation."
He accuses "people around Tony Blair and the Treasury" of having encouraged fears disingenuously that it would cost countless billions of pounds to bring the railways back into public ownership.
"That is simply not the case," he explodes. "The infrastructure has already been nationalised in all but name.
"Network Rail has only one shareholder and that is the Treasury and the train operators do not own the stations. They don't own the trains. All they do is run a service under licence on behalf of the government.
"We need to simply wait until those franchises expire and then take them back. I'm certain that, if a future Labour government indicated that it was terminating franchises, many of the people currently running train services would simply hand in the keys."
Following last year's TSSA conference in Norwich, Doherty was authorised to begin talks over a possible merger with fellow rail union RMT and following his retirement Cortes picked up the baton.
"Sadly the talks with the RMT did not bear fruit," he says, suggesting: "Both RMT and TSSA have long histories and long traditions and sometimes they can get in the way of creating a new union."
Cortes says that TSSA has written to RMT proposing that they should formalise all the good work jointly undertaken over the past few years by creating a formal federation that would also be open to similar-sized specialised transport unions.
"We had a response from the RMT that they would take that to their conference. Hopefully their conference will agree to that, paving the way, in my view, for a specialist transport union in the near future.
"The more we work together the more we are able to show that, by pooling resources, we can deliver a better deal for both sets of members and the more likely a merger with RMT and other similar-sized unions could become a reality.
"I'm still optimistic. I just think that we need to create a federation as a first step."
Unlike RMT, TSSA is affiliated to the Labour Party and Cortes expresses his "absolute delight" that the party made large gains in the recent local council elections and is back as a political force after a very disappointing general election result.
"For the next general election, it's now definitely game on," he enthuses.
However, he insists that the Labour leadership needs to continue to sharpen its focus, looking at what's happened in France, "where a socialist president has been elected on a programme which is very critical of austerity, while people are voting against austerity elsewhere in Europe.
"We need to frame a programme of hope, one that puts investment, job creation and growth at the forefront of our agenda," he declares.
And he expresses confidence that Miliband and his team will do precisely that before they put themselves to the electorate at the next general election.