Paddington crash: six years on

Posted in Janine's blog on Tue, 04/10/2005 - 20:56,

Tomorrow is the sixth anniversary of the train crash at Paddington (or Ladbroke Grove, if your prefer) in which 31 people died. Or, more accruately, were killed by privatisation.

I remember it pretty well. It was one of those stories that did not shift from top spot in the news for around a week afterwards. Day after day, pages and pages of newspapers carried gruesome details of the carnage in Carriage H.

On the eve of this macabre anniversary, rail union RMT has renewed its call for Automatic Train Protection, the retention of independent safety regulation and the enactment of a corporate manslaughter law.

“Automatic Train Protection was promised after the Clapham disaster in 1988, yet in 2005 we are still no nearer getting it,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

“ATP would have prevented the Ladbroke Grove crash and saved 31 lives – but Thames Trains had decided not to install it on grounds of cost.

“After Ladbroke Grove Lord Cullen said that regulation of rail safety should be put in independent hands to avoid it being ‘captured’ by vested commercial interests.

“Yet the government is throwing that into reverse and handing responsibility back to an industry still dominated by private sector interests motivated by cutting costs and maximising profits rather than improving safety.

“A host of other recommendations from Cullen have either been shelved or watered down.

“Where is the central driver and signaller licensing system and joint training scheme? What has happened to the statutory duty to comply with railway group standards? Where is the commitment to ensure that unions play a significant role in safety management?

“At Ladbroke Grove the guard played a crucial role, recognised by Cullen – yet those duties had just been removed from the rule-book and we are still fighting constant attempts by the privateers to downgrade the guard’s safety role."

Surely now, the argument for renationalisation of the railways has been won. Profit and safety do not mix. Most measures of good service - such as punctuality and fares value-for-money - show that the private railway is worse. With its obscene subsidies, the private rail system eats public money more voraciously than British Rail ever did. And for rail workers, privatisation has meant being transferred to new employers, broken into smaller and smaller units, losing pensions, travel, transfer and other rights, and being at the mercy of cowboys with more front than John Wayne.

Every opinion poll on the subject shows a big majority of the public want the railways renationalised. The whole trade union movement backs public ownership.

But New Labour continues to refuse to undo privatisation. More than this, it is reprivatising franchises such as South East Trains, when keeping it in public ownership would be easier.

It's a bloody insult to the memory of the dead.

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