The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has reacted angrily after a government minister tried to shift the blame for failing track renewals away from Tory cuts and onto Network Rail. During an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, transport minister Norman Baker said that Network Rail was failing to carry out regular repairs. His comments followed the release of a report from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) which found Network Rail had failed to deliver on government funding plans to renew Britain's railways.
"They've taken their eye off the ball on the day-to-day maintenance of the network, which is leading to an increased number of overruns on engineering works and unnecessary delays for passengers as a consequence of minor failures in the network," Baker said. "The rail regulators have set out very clearly their concerns. They can require Network Rail to adjust their programme and that's what they are doing."
RMT rubbished the claims that Network Rail had paid "inadequate attention" to areas such as embankment and drainage systems, blaming funding cuts imposed by the government. "RMT has been warning for some time that we are facing a major crisis on rail maintenance and renewals with lethal consequences, driven by the demand for cuts from the government and their agents the ORR, who are both regulator and budget holder," said RMT general secretary Bob Crow. "More cuts are planned under the government's McNulty rail review and the latest financial settlements. With staffing levels and capacity already hacked to the bone this is a crisis set to get worse."
Baker said the government thought the solution was to "have much greater co-ordination between Network Rail and the train companies." However, he ruled out the creation of "vertically integrated" companies responsible for both trains and tracks in the different regions of the country. Meanwhile, Crow called for another way to end the crisis: "The solution is simple: call off the staffing and capacity cuts, end the fragmentation and profiteering of privatisation and renationalise our railways as a single entity."
In response to the ORR report, Network Rail said it had experienced "increased congestion due to growing demand for travel."
Ryan Fletcher, Morning Star