Network Rail workers ‘fear spending cuts will lead to accidents’

The RMT has published the results of a survey which says more than 90 per cent of Network Rail workers think a major railway incident is likely to happen in the next two years because of spending cuts. Network Rail budgets are determined by the Government and the Office of Rail and Road. The union said Network Rail is set to cut £1.2 billion of its budget for Control Period 7 between 2024 and 2029, ‘leading to an overwhelming majority of its staff fearing future accidents and serious safety-related incidents on the railway’. It claimed the cuts include ‘abandoning track renewals for at least the next five years’ and the permanent loss of highly specialised, skilled jobs and equipment ‘as reports of broken rails on our ageing infrastructure rise’. The union has quoted anonymous statements, such as: ‘Planned cuts have staff morale at an all time low as it’s us who maintain the railway and management aren’t listening to us about the seriousness of cutting maintenance schedules and diluting skill levels on jobs. It’s front line staff that will carry the can for any serious incidents.’ ‘Not enough staff left to complete both faults and maintenance. Maintenance is being prioritised but still goes into backlog. Faults are left for days or weeks sometimes. Signallers are already complaining about the growing list of outstanding faults.’ ‘Not enough staff even for the minimum safety maintenance work, using contractors that are not fully qualified for the jobs.’ Other findings are that 77.4 per cent of Network Rail workers think the railway is less safe than it was two years ago, and that 94.3 per cent believe performance and reliability will worsen during the next five-year Control Period. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘These shocking survey results show the real fears of our members on the front line, as the reality of funding cuts to rail becomes clear. ‘These cuts mean Network Rail will not renew a single mile of track for the next five to eight years and the permanent loss of specialist workforce and equipment currently delivering 70 per cent of Britain’s track renewals. ‘Instead, passengers will experience a planned and deliberate reduction of the railway service as reliance on speed restrictions becomes the norm to mitigate the increased safety risk posed by decrepit rail tracks. We are watching the managed decline of a national asset. ‘They must reverse these extremely damaging cuts and move to a genuine public ownership model which sees increased investment year on year and safety for rail workers and user as the number one priority.’ Network Rail told Railnews: ‘Network Rail has to work within its five-year budget set for it by Government and overseen by an independent regulator. Our settlement for the next five years – 2024 to 2029 – is some £43 billion, a substantial sum and comparable with the last five years. The needs of our railway will mean that we’ll have to spend wisely as there are challenges ahead, but substantial track renewals are planned, maintenance will be more effective through the use of new technology and innovation, and doubling our investment on tackling issues caused by climate change will help to keep our railway safe and performing well. ‘Our railway has an enviable safety record, amongst the best in the world, and that’s in a major part to the professionalism and vigilance of our people. We obviously have work to do to give them the reassurances they need, but our focus on delivering the safest and best railway we can remains steadfast.’

Hundreds of passengers rescued by taxi after OLE damage

GWR advised passengers not to try to travel between London Paddington and Reading until midday at least, because overhead lines were damaged outside Paddington at about 18.30 last night, stranding about 900 passengers on one intercity train after the overhead had become wrapped around it. A fleet of hundreds of taxis was used to rescue them during the evening, but there were further problems because passengers on some trains had jumped down on to the track, effectively blocking the lines until they could be removed by British Transport Police. National Rail said a train had collided with an ‘obstruction’ between London Paddington and Acton Main Line, damaging the overhead. There is also more disruption further west, because floods have blocked the main line between Plymouth and Totnes. Network Rail engineers have been working to repair the damaged overhead at Paddington, and National Rail reports that the Paddington lines have now been reopened to traffic, but services will continue to be delayed and in some cases cancelled until later today. Passengers travelling to Paddington may have to change trains at Reading. The line will probably not be reopened between Totnes and Plymouth until the end of the day. Trains are continuing to run on Cornish lines as far as Plymouth, and between Exeter and London Paddington, while a limited service is being provided between Exeter St Davids and Totnes. GWR customer service and operations director Richard Rowland said: ‘We’re really sorry for customers whose journeys have been disrupted following damage to overhead wires just outside London Paddington last night.  ‘For the safety of passengers all trains were stopped following the incident. Unfortunately, this disruption continues this morning.’