Posted 7th July 2021 | 7 Comments

Union calls for 'rail rethink' in wake of MPs' report

A HIGHLY critical rail report from a committee of MPs published today says the Department for Transport faces 'an extremely challenging and uncertain environment in which to implement its proposed reforms'. In response, the RMT union has called for an 'urgent' government rethink.

The Public Accounts Committee says the English rail system has 'suffered from a lack of strategic direction and accountability for many years' and 'struggled to improve service reliability, quality and flexibility with 'delivery of services not sufficiently focused on the needs of passengers'.

It adds that the DfT also 'lacks a convincing and timely plan for encouraging passengers back to the railway as part of Covid-19 recovery' and this, combined with a 'disappointing lack of progress in agreeing a specific and funded plan for rail electrification' pose further a risk to the government’s own net zero targets.

The reforms, unveiled in May, include the creation of a new 'guiding mind' to be called Great British Railways, which will absorb Network Rail and award contracts to operators, although these will be concessions rather than franchises.

The RMT's general secretary Mick Lynch said: 'Behind its measured language, what this report shows is that Ministers have got all their priorities wrong. Their response to the plight of rail is clouded by a dogmatic fixation with designing a system which can bolt the failed private train operators back into place instead of setting a clear strategy for rail to play its part in delivering a long term safe and sustainable massive increase public transport use to help meet the climate change challenge.

'Every single failing detailed by the Public Accounts Committee, without exception, could begin to be tackled if we took back real control and created an integrated, publicly owned and publicly accountable railway where time, resources, and every penny of tax and fare payer is spent on improving services and not wasted trying to satisfy the parasitical carpet baggers clustered round our railways.

'We need a rail rethink which puts rail and public transport generally at the heart of a green transport revolution that will reduce emissions and pollution.'

Although the government's reforms will need primary legislation, it has been reported that GBR could be set up in 'shadow' form as soon as 5 October.

The Committee's chair, Dame Meg Hillier, said: 'Decent public transport is crucial to both household and national economies. Rail reform won’t work if it doesn’t work for tax-payers and fare-paying passengers, and the Government won’t achieve its economic and environmental goals without effective rail reform.'

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Through World War 2 , the top- down, monolith, centralised "command and control" approach worked, and the following Attlee governments ( 1945 - 1951 )
    tried to continue this, but the whole psychology of the people changed in peacetime, rendering the nationalised industries incapable of the promised Utopia.

    More recently , both railfreight ( despite the rundown of coal traffic) and most passenger operations, despite the flawed franchising system , have been something of a success, as a surprise to those who were thinking in terms of "managed decline".

    We can ( and should) try to find a new structure , perhaps using a mix of private and public sector , applied to each particular type of operation as appropriate. But doctrinaire blanket nationalisation would likely go the same way as BR ( managed decline).

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    A question to which I don't know the answer: will the "hydrogen economy" and the minimising of carbonaceous gases be feasible , in terms of adequate availability of the needed alternative raw materials ?

  • Tom Davidson, Cononley

    As General Secretary of the Parasitical Carpet Bagger's Union (PCBU) I find these comments unacceptable. Our workforce stands in defiance of the far left and indeed far right suggestion that carpets should be bagged by alternative, inferior means.

  • Andrew, Ely

    I thoroughly share the doubts over the role of hydrogen expressed by other contributors.

    But it is not enough to insist on the small share that rail or any of us individually has in harmful emissions, and it is incredibly damaging to imply that climate change activism is a charade.

    It is not somebody else's responsibility, it is the responsibility of all of us to bring our emissions down to as near zero (not 'net zero') as possible. But more than that, those in power need to be constantly reminded of their duty to implement the right policies to enable the rest of us to do the right things. Otherwise we are accelerating the end of the world as we know it, and quite possibly the end of life on earth altogether.

    Therefore fossil fuels must be abandoned, and solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy must become overwhelmingly dominant as quickly as possible.

  • Gregory Tingey, London

    Hydrogen is this years "Bionic Duckweed" - ANY distraction to avoid electrifying ... DfT are still concerned with road building ....

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    It's always worth remembering that until we build a hydrogen gas pipeline from Jupiter it's necessary to manufacture hydrogen but one first has to use electricity to produce the hydrogen and just like other fuels energy is lost in production!

    Far better to get on with electrification with batteries for remote lines etc and forget about hydrogen a gas that as the hinddenburg showed is highly dangerous if it becomes flammable!

  • kng arthur, Buckley

    Not a day goes by without some government stooge or industry 'expert' mentioning climate change and the railway in the same sentence. What exactly is the UK rail industry's contribution to global CO2 concentrations? I suspect it is so small it can't even be measured, but yet we're supposed to go along with the absurd notion that diesel trains are somehow contributing to an environmental emergency and that hydrogen and batteries are realistic alternatives to conventional forms of motive power.

    There are a million challenges facing the rail transport sector in 2021, and not to mention potential opportunities, but the legions of policymakers and senior managers are obsessing about high school grade environmental activism. When is someone going to call out this ridiculous charade?