Monday, February 26, 2007

The train crash

Having travelled many times on the North-Western line out of Euston, and quite a few times on Virgin's Pendolino trains, as with many others, I can imagine all too easily what it would be like to be on the train as it derails unexpectedly at speed and slides and rolls down a steep embankment, as with the train crash a few days ago in Cumbria.

Just as with the Potter's Bar tragedy, one sees how the arrangements of privatisation have made the railways less safe, offering a poorer and more expensive service than when they were owned and run by British Rail, all those years ago. All the while that the train service in Britain has declined and become unsafe, trains in continental Europe (which are publicly owned and subsidised), run on time, are value for money, and hardly ever have accidents (can you remember the last train crash in Europe?)

Separating the ownership and management of the track from the rolling stock at the time of privatisation was always going to risk creating an accountability gap, and this is what has happened. Network Rail, the publicly owned organisation that took over from Railtrack (which was privately owned), uses the same outsourced contracting arrangements for maintenance, and perhaps alarmingly, uses the same contractor involved in the Potter's Bar crash, Jarvis. Worse still, Jarvis are using the same pathetic excuse as last time: it was perhaps sabotage.

Although I am pro-privatisation for the energy and telecoms sectors, I remain pro-public ownership for transport networks, based on European experience. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the outsourced contractor model in the public sector context (for roads and rail), but regulation needs to play a far stronger role. One would have thought there could be a technology made available (with sensors and gsm-signal devices) that reduce the dependence on manual inspection of points on the track. Beyond the speculation, I suspect that no one's head will roll after the Cumbria accident; the accountability gap being conveniently wide.


About This Blog

  © Blogger templates Psi by 2008

Back to TOP