Category Archives: Railways

Rishi Sunak’s big conference announcement is that the Tories’ flagship project is a failure

Rishi Sunak and HS2: he’s probably wishing the locomotive was more than just a concept image – then it could run over him and release him from the humiliation of its failure.

The high-speed rail link between London and the North, that has been under construction for most of the Tories’ 13 years in office, is a nearly-£100-million white elephant, Rishi Sunak will say in his keynote speech to the Conservative conference.

He will announce that the stretch of the line from the West Midlands to Manchester is to be scrapped, meaning the entire project is now just a slightly faster route from a town just outside London to Birmingham.

Sunak will try to save face for his party by outlining alternative transport projects in the north of England and Wales which he’ll claim will be better value for money and can be completed more quickly.

Let’s hope he’s right about that, because another 13-year wait with no certainty of anything at the end would make the UK a laughing st- well, more of a laughing stock internationally than it is, even today.

It was the project’s ever-rocketing costs that killed it in the end. It was projected to take £71 billion of public money back in 2019 – before the inflation crisis of the last year or so. No figures have been mentioned in relation to its current cost – and that could be to save the prime minister his blushes.

The BBC is reporting that HS2 was originally proposed in 2010, as a flagship infrastructure project for the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government. It was approved in 2012, when “then-Transport Secretary Justine Greening called it ‘the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways’.”

Hindsight can be cruel, can’t it?

The Tories soon descended into squabbles over price and place – how much it would cost and whose constituencies would be disrupted by its construction. According to the Beeb,

At least £22.5bn has already been spent building the London-Birmingham section, while £2.3bn has gone towards the second phase, on things such buying up land and property.

There are also people whose lives have already been uprooted by property purchases along the planned HS2 route north of Birmingham.

If Mr Sunak announces that HS2 trains will go to Manchester using existing tracks, it follows that no extra space would be created and journey time benefits would be reduced.

What a disaster.

And, again according to the BBC, Sunak is going to announce this monumental failure in a speech when he will tell the audience that he is the man to “fundamentally change our country”. For the worse?

Apparently he and his team want this speech – possibly his last before the next general election – to turn around both his fortunes and those of his party, which has been lagging behind Labour in opinion polls for more than a year. Wishful thinking? Forlorn hopes?

It seems to This Writer that he might just as well not give a speech at all but simply throw in a towel instead.

It would be a symbolic admission that his party’s project since 2010 has failed as utterly as HS2.


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HS2: isn’t this track-less railway now also pointless?

HS2: it has cost too much; it doesn’t do what the Tories said it would; and it doesn’t go where they said it would either. And this critical cartoon was published in the usually Tory-supporting Telegraph.

What better symbol of the last 13 years’ Tory government could there be?

HS2 – the long-planned high-speed rail line from London to the north, that was only ever intended to cut 20 minutes off travel times, has already cost three times as much as its original budget. And now we learn that it may not even reach either of its original destinations:

Simon Harris, below, makes the obvious points:

That’s right; the extra time it would take to travel from London to Old Oak Common would negate any time saving on the HS2 line itself, meaning the reason for spending around £100 billion on it (up from slightly less than £33bn in 2011) is also negated.

Some have taken the announcement humorously…

Some have taken it philosophically…

And, on the subject of failing and disconnected rail infrastructure in the north, some have simply done better:

Jamie Driscoll’s achievement demolishes arguments against voting for Independents and the so-called “smaller” UK political parties.

Admittedly, much of the work he did on this happened while he was with Labour, but he and Keir Starmer have parted ways due to a fundamental difference of political views (Starmer is a Conservative cuckoo in the once-Socialist party and Mr Driscoll is a left-winger), meaning that this is an achievement of an Independent.

The conclusion is clear: while Labour and the Tories just flap their tongues and spend your money on nothing, Independent politicians – given power – get things done.


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Why are private rail firms paying shareholders so much profit when they’re so far in debt?

Mick Lynch: he knows what he’s talking about. What a pity his interviewers can’t say the same.

Have a gander at this video clip, courtesy of the TUC – if you can get past the bizarre behaviour of the interviewers.

To me, it seems a very strange way of running a business.

If a firm is making a loss, it seems very strange behaviour for a national government to subsidise it – especially if it is still handing over huge amounts in dividends to shareholders.

That money should be covering the firm’s losses, shouldn’t it?

No wonder Mick Lynch’s union members haven’t had a pay rise in four years – and I’m willing to bet it was a pittance then!

Some might say low wages are better than being unemployed – but if these firms are being parasitised by fatcat investors, then by rights, they should be closed down and the bosses (and the investors) prosecuted for misuse of public funds.

Or so it seems to me.

Perhaps the government believes that the railways must continue running – but in that case, the obvious answer presents itself. It’s one that Mr Lynch himself points out the government has used.

Re-nationalisation.

Then there would be no shareholders to take dividends that should be invested.

Am I mistaken?


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RMT votes for six months’ more strike action

Mick Lynch: members of his RMT union have voted to continue strike action. Meanwhile, the government has subsidised rail firms with more money than the union’s pay demand.

This took me completely by surprise – I was concentrating on aspects of the local elections.

So I’m going to rely on Professor Tim Wilson for the details.

His comments about education are very interesting, I think.


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Union condemns Department for Transport over privatised rail firm dividends

Scam: rail firms (for clarity, the train in the picture is not run by one of the companies in the story) are being protected from the consequences of strike action with public money that is being used to pay shareholders. Meanwhile, workers’ pay demands are ignored and services cancelled.

Tory priorities.

It seems the Conservative government has happily green-lit the payment of £82 million in dividend payments to shareholders in two privatised rail companies, while refusing to accept the pay demands of thousands of people who actually work on the railways:

From the article:

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has allowed two private rail companies to be paid £82 million in dividends in 2022.

This is the despite the fact both companies are part of a major industrial dispute where hundreds of millions of pounds has been used to indemnify them against lost revenue from strike action.

FirstRail Holdings Ltd, the holding company for five FirstGroup franchises, and Govia Thameslink Railways, which runs the biggest franchise in Britain, have recently reported dividend payments of £65 million and £16.9 million respectively in their annual accounts for 2022.

Two of First Rail Holdings Ltd’s franchises, Avanti West Coast and Transpennine Express, have been the subject of public and political controversy after cancelling hundreds of services. In spite of this, the government has renewed or extended contracts for Avanti West Coast and may shortly do the same for Transpennine Express.

Govia won a contract to carry on running the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise from the government in October 2022 despite its sister company LSER being stripped of the Southeastern franchise for concealing public money.

The DfT allowed Go-Ahead Group to conduct its own internal inquiry into the failings at LSER and renewed Govia’s contract for the Thameslink franchise in spite of the fact that the two companies shared many of the same management personnel.

All these franchises have benefited from indemnification worth hundreds of millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money by the DfT to cover the costs of lost passenger revenue during the ongoing dispute.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “The DfT is now little more than a representative of big business, geared to turning tax revenue into shareholder dividends.

“If you’re a private train operator, it doesn’t matter whether your problem is unpredictable passenger revenue, costly train leases or industrial action, the Secretary of State is there to help, opening the public purse and emptying it into shareholders’ pockets.

“This system is not operating in the interests of passengers, railway workers or the taxpayer.

“It is clear that only full public ownership of train operation in this country can save our railways from being looted by this gang of unaccountable spivs.”

Here’s an English-language explanation of what can only be described as a Tory-run scam:

It would be cheaper to bring rail back under public ownership all around – and that includes paying rail workers what they demand.

The RMT has no strike days currently planned after the government put a new pay offer on the table – but that doesn’t mean its workers will accept any such offer as fair.

Meanwhile, the government has been ring-fencing the failing rail operators against strike action – using public money. That’s your money.

It would be better to let the privateers fail, take the railways back into public ownership at low cost and pay the workers. The Tories aren’t doing it because they want to keep workers poor and pay the idle rich who do nothing for their wealth.


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Rail strike: Network Rail says a deal is close – the RMT says otherwise. Who’s right?

Network Rail’s chief negotiator Tim Shoveller reckons a “repurposed” version of a pay off made to rail union members last September may bring the rail strike to an end – but is he telling the whole truth?

He told Sky News that a ballot on the offer had won support from 36 per cent of the RMT members who voted on it:

But RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch pointed out that 36 per cent in favour meant 64 per cent – an overwhelming majority – were against the offer. He said the companies have continued to make profit during every strike day because the government has taken the losses instead – around £320 million.

And he added that the government and the railway companies are determined to run down pay, conditions, and – crucially – safety in a rush to grab as much profit as they can from the UK’s rail network, that suffers from crippling underinvestment:

This Writer is just a lay-person but from my position it seems this industrial dispute is far from being over – and won’t be until the company bosses and the government start listening to the concerns of the people who do the actual work.

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Why is the Transport Secretary trying to force ‘reforms’ on unions that want better pay?

Mick Lynch: he’s frustrated because the rail companies and Network Rail say they don’t have the power to negotiate meaningfully with him over pay and safety conditions for RMT Union members.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper reckons rail unions need to accept “reforms” that would free up money for pay rises.

Why?

On the Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show, he said: “It is the reforms that free up the savings that then unlock the ability for the companies to make an offer to the trade unions on pay.”

But that is to assume no more money could be brought in – and that is a political choice by the Tory government.

He also said: “I do not have a bottomless pit of taxpayers’ money to throw at this problem.”

And he doesn’t, because taxpayers’ money doesn’t pay for any public services at all. Public money – created by the government – does. It’s time our politicians stopped trying to hoodwink us with this lazy lie.

The government can very easily create as much money as is needed to provide a “proper seven-day rail network” – also Harper’s words, and why doesn’t the UK have that network any more since privatisation anyway?

Taxation relieves inflationary pressures that may be created by investing money into public services – and may be used by progressive governments to re-balance the gap between the richest and the poorest citizens in the country, by taking money from those who can most easily bear it. Of course the UK’s Tory government is as far from progressive as one can get.

And Harper said any money saved through reforms would have to be split “fairly between the taxpayer and the people who work in the industry”. Why give savings back to taxpayers when so much needs to be done to improve the rail service? Is he looking for another tax cut for the rich?

The whole spiel strikes This Writer as self-serving claptrap.

If Harper really wanted to do some good, wouldn’t it be better for him to offer to give the private rail operators and Network Rail the mandate for meaningful negotiations with the RMT union that its general secretary, Mick Lynch, has been told they don’t have?

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Rail strikes suspended for talks on new deal – but is anything new on offer?

Mick Lynch: he wasn’t holding back when he appeared on the BBC’s Question Time. Has anything changed?

Does Mick Lynch have a good reason to suspend rail strikes?

Here’s a quick summary of the story:

Mr Lynch, the RMT union’s general secretary, said

there had been “the promise of an offer” on pay from the rail operating companies.

However, when contacted by the BBC, rail employers and the government said their position had not changed.

If they’re not offering anything new, then there’s no reason to suspend strike action – is there?

The BBC’s report added that the suspension has been announced 11 days before a fresh RMT strike ballot is due to close on November 15.

Mr Lynch previously told the BBC that he expected workers to vote in favour, and warned that there could be strikes for another six months if no agreement is reached.

Will the new talks affect the way the ballot goes? Will they even take place before it finishes, so union members can be sure of the situation when they go to vote? Is the new offer – whatever it is – just an attempt to interfere with the result of the ballot?

Could Mr Lynch have behaved any differently?

This Writer isn’t sure he could have. But I wonder whether the future of rail services is being wagered on a form of negotiation brinkmanship.

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UK faces train disruption during second widespread rail strike in a week

The cause of the problem: if Boris Johnson thinks he’ll enjoy decent rail travel after his decisions caused inflation to soar, plunging workers into financial crisis, he’d better think again. The trouble is, his likely successors are unlikely to solve the problem because they are as pig-headed as he is.

Commuters were encouraged to find alternative routes to their destinations on Saturday as around 5,000 train drivers went on strike for higher pay.

Drivers’ union ASLEF called the strike because current franchise agreements between the government and the mostly foreign-owned firms that run UK rail services allow for pay rises of only two per cent – in effect, pay cuts with inflation running at 9.4 per cent, its highest in 40 years.

The strike is said to have cancelled almost all services run by seven of the UK’s 34 train operators, but is unlikely to break a stalemate between ASLEF and industry organisation the Rail Delivery Group, which says operators will give bigger pay rises only if train drivers agreed to changes in working practices that would save money.

According to International Business Times, RDG chair Steve Montgomery said,

“We’re not saying to people ‘work longer hours’, but to be more productive within the hours they currently have.”

How are they supposed to do that? They drive trains that run according to specific schedules, meaning their use of time is determined by their bosses, not them.

IBT also stated:

Soaring inflation … and patchy wage rises have exacerbated labour tensions across sectors including postal services, health, schools, airports and the judiciary.

So brace yourself for strikes in all those sectors as well. ASLEF is planning another one-day strike on August 13.

Source: Britain’s trains disrupted in second widespread rail strike in a week

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Is the government being honest with you about rail strikes?

Rail service: this is a generic image of a train and isn’t meant to represent any of the services that won’t be running.

This is from a BBC report about forthcoming rail strikes by the RMT union:

It is not for the government to intervene to stop rail strikes, the transport secretary has said – despite unions calling for talks.

Grant Shapps said the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) request for a meeting was a “stunt” and claimed it had been “determined to go on strike”.

The union said politicians were failing to prevent three days of industrial action.

Labour claimed ministers wanted the strikes to go ahead to “sow division”.

Strikes will take place on almost all major lines across Britain on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, as well as on the London Underground on Tuesday.

Is it a stunt by the union, though? Or is it one by the government?

Let’s look at what the Conservatives’ Facebook page has to say:

Keir Starmer’s own MPs back the week of rail chaos – with no concerns for the commutes 𝙘𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙙, operations 𝙙𝙚𝙡𝙖𝙮𝙚𝙙 and businesses 𝙞𝙢𝙥𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙚𝙙.

Also:

Labour’s Strikes will prevent doctors, nurses and patients getting to hospital. Instead of backing the NHS, Labour are backing strike chaos.

There’s nothing about the reason for the strikes, you’ll notice.

So let’s find out from somebody who actually uses the train services likely to be affected. This is by Paula Peters, a long-time disability-campaigner friend:

A lady passenger was trying to book a taxi to get to work for next Tuesday first day of rail strike. Taxi told her sorry you’ve got to book on the day.

She was calling the rail workers all sorts so I put her straight on a few things.

I said, you use the rail network a lot right? See you got kids there.

Said the RMT are striking to not only fight for their terms & conditions, asking for increase in pay as they haven’t had one a long time and prices are rising, but they are fighting rail maintenance cuts, cuts to maintenance workers hours, stop the closure of ticket offices, fight against the reduction of services.

What do you mean rail maintenance? She said. I said you see engineering work sometimes don’t you? Replacing track, repairing it. She said yes. I said well the government want to cut rail maintenance jobs and it puts your safety at risk, because if track isn’t maintained there would be a serious rail accident which could lead to serious injury and loss of life.

She thought for a moment. She looked at her kids. Imagine if you your kids your husband were caught up in a rail accident and one of your family were seriously hurt.

That’s what the RMT are fighting back against. To protect your safety and everyone who travels on the rail network.

By this time 30 passengers on the carriage I was in were listening intently.

I said, look, next week may inconvenience you, but think about rail maintenance cuts, cuts to services, lack of ticket offices. Lack of platform staff. That these guys have families to feed and they are struggling too.

There was silence. Then a conductor whose name is Chris walks through the train.

I said excuse me are you RMT. He said he was. I said you on strike Tuesday? He said he was.

I stood up shook his hand. Then shouted out, SOLIDARITY to the RMT!

The carriage erupted into cheers.

You see?

When you actually know a little about matter like this, it can change your perspective completely. Are any of you opposing the rail strikes now?

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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