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March 31, 2006

Tebay survivor speaks out

Lakeland Today: 30 March 2006

A SURVIVOR of the Tebay tragedy which killed four railway men has spoken for the first time.

Tom Angus, from Lancaster, stood and watched helplessly as four of his friends were cut down by a runaway wagon on February 15, 2004.

He was one of the gang of men sent to replace a section of track at Tebay in the early hours of the morning.

Shortly before 6am the 13-strong engineering gang began to clear away ballast which had been placed around the rail which was to be replaced.

As his four colleagues (Gary Tindall, Colin Buckley, Chris Waters and Darren Burgess) started work on the line the others stepped off.

"The rest of us just stepped out waiting for them to finish and the next moment we heard a 'whoosh' and I saw this black object pass us. It hit the lads on the rail and disappered into the dark."

The first reaction of the other gang members was one of panic.

"We didn't know what was going on. Some of the other lads had been hit by stuff flying off the track and we were all looking around to see who was hurt.

One of the lads was sitting down crying out in pain so we brought a genny over to keep him warm. Another had been hit on the head by something. And, of course, there were four lads who were dead."

Following the tragedy Tom and many of the other survivors took six months off work to come to terms with what they had seen. Although he was not hurt physically, he still bears the mental scars.

"There's not some part of the day goes past that I don't think about what happened," he added.

"How could it not? I keep thinking how lucky I was to walk away from it. A few feet the other way and I would have been on the track."

Asia's longest land tunnel railway in operation

People's Daily Online: March 31, 2006

The Wushaoling tunnel railway, the longest of its kind in Asia, opened to traffic on Thursday in China's northwestern Gansu Province.

The 21.05-kilometer-long tunnel railway, which is more than 2,400 meters above sea level, is a key project for the Asia-Europe Land Bridge's 3,651-km-long section from Lianyungang in East China to Urumqi in Northwest China.

Designed to allow speeds of 160 km per hour, the tunnel railway has shortened the distance between Dacaigou and Longgou, part of the long section, by 30.4 km.

The right tunnel railway line (the west to east direction) opened on Thursday and the left line (in the opposite direction) will be opened in October. They will provide a significant boost for transportation between China's east and west regions, a top Chinese railway official said.

The operation of the tunnel railway will also help ease the cargo and passenger transportation pressure on the Asia-Europe Land Bridge, the cheapest and fastest Asia-Europe land rail route, which starts from Lianyungang and goes westward to its terminal at the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the official said.

Calls for new bids on GNER route

The Independent:31 March 2006
By Barrie Clement, Transport Editor

Fresh bids should be allowed for the high-profile East Coast rail route if the current operator fails to pay a ?1.3bn premium promised to the Government, according to industry sources.

Christopher Garnett, the chief executive of the successful bidder Great North Eastern Railway, has indicated the massive subvention he pledged to the Exchequer might be under threat because a competitor has been allowed to run services on the network. Mr Garnett said officials told him to "ignore" such a possibility.

But a source involved in the bidding process said all contestants had been explicitly warned by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) that they could face competition from train operators taking advantage of "open access" rules.

It is understood at least two of GNER's rivals during last year's bidding process had included caveats in their submissions which warned that premiums to be paid to the Government would be lower if other operators were given "slots" on the East Coast route. Apart from the GNER attempt to retain the franchise, there were also bids from FirstGroup, Virgin-Stagecoach and Danish state railways. The industry source said: "If GNER can't keep to the terms of the franchise agreement, then re-tendering the franchise is the only option."

Last Friday Mr Garnett said he was assured no new operators would be allowed on to the route. He was speaking after a decision by the Office of Rail Regulation to allow Grand Central to run Sunderland services, preventing GNER operating extra services to Leeds.

Another source said GNER had originally written a caveat into its submission, but was told by SRA officials to take it out.

March 30, 2006

Hi-tech rail slammed by unions for ignoring the poor

IRIN: 30 Mar 2006

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's labour federation has threatened strike action against an "elite" superfast train service, which it claims is ignoring the needs of poor commuters.

Billed as Africa's first highspeed train, the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link is expected to cover the 80 km between the national capital, Pretoria, and the commercial hub of Johannesburg in 40 minutes, at a cost of about US $3.2 billion.

Earlier this year, the Gauteng provincial government announced that the project would be ready in a record 54 months, in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup to be held in South Africa.

The six-lane highway between the two cities is one of the busiest stretches of road in the world, as growing affluence adds more users. Public transport has so far been inadequate and often unreliable.

But the new train service "will do nothing for the poor people who live in the black townships and spend up to four hours commuting to Johannesburg for work," said Siphiwe Mgcina, provincial general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

"The design of cities during apartheid was premised on black townships being temporary, and these were located far from city centres ... nothing was done to improve the transport service between the townships and the city centres, and this situation has persisted," he noted.

Critical of the government's lack of foresight, Mgcina pointed out that the authorities should have opted to develop a mass transit system from townships into cities, as part of an integrated development plan that would see townships themselves becoming economic hubs over the next 15 years.

Up to 300,000 daily commuters, most of them residents of townships on the outskirts of Pretoria and Johannesburg, use the Metrorail, a dilapidated state-run surface network plagued by old infrastructure and machinery, which experts say is in need of an urgent makeover. Commuters angered by Metrorail's unreliable services have frequently torched trains, costing the provincial government $48.5 million in 2005.

"If the government prioritised upgrading and extending the existing Metrorail, this will also create many jobs," added Mgcina.

Yunus Mohamed, an industrial relations and human resources lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand, was critical of the Gautrain project, saying the government "had not got its priorities right".

"The Gautrain project, clearly aimed at the affluent and the upper-middle class, intended to ease the mobility of the business community. It will do nothing for the majority of the community, who suffer the most in terms of travel. Even the price of the tickets, believed to be in the region of about $16 for a trip, is beyond the reach of an ordinary commuter," he noted.

Provincial Minister of Public Transport, Roads and Works Ignatius Jacobs was dismissive of COSATU's criticism and said the Gautrain project was part of a plan to overhaul the entire transport network in the province, which included upgrading Metrorail.

South African Firm Wins 25-Year Ethio-Djibouti Rail Deal

ANDnetwork .com: March?30,?2006,

South African-based railway operator Comazar was declared winner Thursday of an international tender to administer the 1,000-km Ethio-Djibouti railway for 25 years.

The line runs from the Ethiopian capital to the small neighbouring country of Djibouti, at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

The two countries' ministries of transport, which jointly administer the Ethio-Djibouti Railway Company, released a statement announcing that Comazar's bid had been declared winner? after thorough discussions.

Comazar currently operates railways in 20 other African countries.

The Ethio-Djibouti Railway was built at the turn of the 19th Century by the French government and then-Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, providing the landlocked East African country with access to the outside world.

Djibouti became joint owner of the railway in June 1977 on attaining independence from France.

LCR sale to be shelved until link is completed

The Times: March 30, 2006
By Elizabeth Judge

THE sale of London & Continental Railways, the company that is building the high-speed rail line from London to the Channel Tunnel, is to be shelved until after the link is finished next year.

The decision, which will be announced by the Government today, will be welcomed by the management of the ?5.2 billion project, who had protested that a sale prior to completion would endanger the success of the project.

Shareholders were also believed to be furious about the prospect of an auction, which they thought would distract the management from the job of completing the second phase of the fast rail link by the spring 2007 deadline.

It will, however, come as a blow to Sir Adrian Montague, the banker and former adviser to the Treasury, who had been seeking to secure control of LCR.

It is understood that the Government decided to delay a sale after opposition from shareholders. The group?s largest shareholders are Bechtel, UBS and National Express.

Though some were initially thought to have favoured a sale to Sir Adrian as a quicker, less-disruptive option than an auction, the chairman of LCR had called Sir Adrian?s bid opportunistic and said its timing ?could be highly disruptive to the completion of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link?.

The Government had also faced accusations of cronyism because of Sir Adrian?s close links to the Government.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport declined to comment on the plans.

Earlier this month the Office for National Statistics reclassified the owner of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link as a public sector company.

The ruling had the effect of transferring LCR?s debts of more than ?5 billion to the public accounts and underlined the Government?s ability to dictate LCR?s future.

See also:

AFX News Limited: 03.30.2006

UK govt says no possible competitive tender on London & Continental until 2007

LONDON (AFX) - The government has pulled its plan to hold a competitive tender process for the sale of Channel Tunnel rail link builder London & Continental Railways (LCR) as some shareholders do not want to sell at this stage, said Transport Secretary Alistair Darling.

In a written parliamentary statement, Darling said he expected to revisit the issue with shareholders once the channel link has been commissioned sometime next year.

Darling added that LCR and its shareholders 'have proposed a significant overhaul of the future relationship with the department', but gave no further details.

The tender process was announced earlier this month when it emerged that a consortium led by Sir Adrian Montague, the merchant banker and former Treasury adviser, has approached LCR's shareholders expressing an interest in buying the company.

This caused an uproar and forced the government to open up to all bidders.

'Having considered the matter, it is clear that certain shareholders do not wish to sell their shares at this time. There is therefore no need to proceed with a competitive process now,' Darling said.

See also:

Sale of Channel tunnel rail link builder delayed

The Guardian: March 31, 2006
Mark Milner

The transport secretary, Alistair Darling, said yesterday that he had decided to delay any sale of London & Continental Railways, the company building the 68-mile Channel tunnel rail link, at least until the ?5.2bn project is completed, expected to be in 2007.

Last month Mr Darling said his department had received an approach from a consortium led by Sir Adrian Montague about a possible acquisition.

Earlier this month Mr Darling said any sale would have to be by a competitive process.

Mr Darling said yesterday that "certain shareholders do not wish to sell their shares at this time."

No promises on railway services

BBC News: 29 March 2006

MPs from Devon and Cornwall came away empty-handed after pressing Whitehall civil servants to keep threatened railway services. Commuters are concerned that fast services might be cut.

They said the government's minimum service commitment, starting in December, is worse than before.

The number of trains taking only three hours from Plymouth to London, which they say is vital for investment, would be cut from five a day to one.

But MPs were not given any commitment on the services.

"People who commute...often have to stand and we were hoping for some action on that, but it seems as if there won't be" - North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson

Neither were civil servants prepared to offer any promises on services to and from Newquay, or the timetable from Ivybridge, all of which are under threat.

North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson, said: "The new services do not meet the concerns of the people in Cornwall.

"There are particular concerns about the branch lines and under the new franchise there is not going to be investment to increase the size of commuter trains.

"People who commute in and out of Truro often have to stand and we were hoping for some action on that , but it seems as if there won't be."

Julian Crowe, general manager for First Great Western in the west of England, said the firm was discussing concerns with the Department of Transport.

'?100m invested'

"But there will be nine high-speed trains from Cornwall to London a day in the new timetable, compared with seven now and some of those trains will replace local services," he said.

"That will include a new service between Newquay and London in July and August.

"We are also investing ?100m in improving rolling stock."

MPs will now lobby Transport Minister Derek Twigg and First Great Western, who have the ultimate decision to build on the minimum commitment.

A decision on the level of service is expected from the minister next month.

March 29, 2006

Mind The Pensions Gap!

Hear RMT general secretary Bob Crow speak on the threat to the Railways Pension Scheme.
Rail_unions_pensions (18k image)

BRISTOL - Meeting starts 6pm
Wednesday, April 5
GWR Staff Association, The Incline, Bristol Temple Meads
click here for map

Bob will be joined by fellow rail union leaders Keith Norman and Gerry Doherty at the following meetings across the country. Packed meetings at Cardiff and York this month have already proved a great success.

Workers take action in UK and Germany

Financial Times: March 28 2006

France was not the only place in Europe to see industrial action on Tuesday as workers in the UK and Germany also took to the streets in protest, write Andrew Taylor in London and Hugh Williamson in Berlin.

In Britain thousands of schools, libraries and leisure centres closed on Tuesday and transport links were halted as local government workers staged a 24-hour strike over pensions in what trade unions billed the biggest single stoppage in the country since the General Strike of 1926.

All bus and rail services were at a standstill in Northern Ireland, while the Mersey tunnels in Liverpool and the Metro on Tyneside were closed. Subway systems in Glasgow and Edinburgh also halted as unions reported that more than 1m workers had joined the strike.

Claims that the strike had caused widespread disruption, however, were disputed by the Local Government Association, representing employers, which said only a ?small minority? of councils had been affected.

The strike was called after ministers backed plans to end a rule allowing council employees to retire on full pensions at 60 provided their age and years of service added up to 85. Unions have threatened to halt local elections in May as part of a rolling programme of stoppages.

GNER forced to make way for rival

The Times: March 29, 2006
By Angela Jameson, Industrial Correspondent

THE chief executive of GNER, the rail operator, has attacked the way the Department for Transport (DfT) is running the rail industry, a day after the company was told that it would have to give access to a rival that wants to run services to Sunderland.

Chris Garnett also predicted big rises in non-regulated fares over the next two years, saying: "We are charging people more and more, and they are going to have fewer and fewer seats."

Mr Garnett's outburst on Friday came after he had learnt that the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) had backed plans for rival Grand Central to run the Sunderland services, preventing GNER from running services to Leeds.

Mr Garnett said the Government had effectively "mis-sold" the East Coast Main Line franchise, for which GNER paid £1.3 billion last year, and that the ORR's decision would damage the railway. He added that he did not know how long the present system could last because of its "enormous exposure to Government ministers". The GNER boss said that Grand Central's takings would come out of GNER's profit. "If you said what is basic fairness, what is franchising meant to deliver, it ain't meant to deliver that. And that's not the basis on which we bid, and it's not the basis on which the Department told us to bid," he said.

Mr Garnett said that GNER was taking legal advice, and is thought to be looking for a rebate of at least £100 million on the £1.3 billion it paid.

Ministers are understood to have been "disappointed and surprised" by the ORR's ruling.

Industry analysts say that the ORR's ruling will make large rail operators think twice when bidding for premium franchises.

See also:

GNER chief attacks franchising process

Independent Online:?29 March 2006
By Barrie Clement, Transport Editor

The head of one of Britain's flagship rail routes has condemned the Government's whole franchising process and accused ministers of misleading him over his network's potential profitability.

At a private lunch meeting Christopher Garnett, the chief executive of Great North Eastern Railway, let rip on a range of issues, accusing Whitehall of exercising an "extraordinary" amount of control over the industry and warning of fares rising "quite heavily" in the next few years.

Addressing industry leaders, Mr Garnett tore into the decision of the Office of Rail Regulation last week to deny GNER extra services on the East Coast main line route.

He said the ruling that an "open access" operator should gain slots instead would mean the Government would not get the ?1.3bn premium over 10 years agreed in the franchise deal. Under government "open access' policies a company can apply to run services on routes already covered by a franchise.

The regulator's decision had not only undermined GNER, it damaged the industry and cast doubt on the viability of other franchises such as that covering the South West main line, run by Stagecoach.

The Department for Transport had let the East Coast franchise on the basis that bidders should "ignore" any threat from open access operators despite the fact the Government's policies provided for such competition.

Speaking at a lunch organised by Modern Railways magazine on Friday, Mr Garnett said: "The DfT are letting franchises on the basis of saying 'ignore open access', yet their White Paper said there is open access."

He said the South West Trains timetable covering the routes out of Waterloo contained "padding" and that open access operators would argue for those slots. He said the decision to allow Grand Central Railway to operate between Sunderland and London on the East Coast line had taken "half the franchise" from GNER.

"That's not the basis on which we bid and it's not the basis on which the department told us to bid." He said since the abolition of the Strategic Rail Authority, an "extraordinary amount of government control" had developed.

If GNER fails to produce the revenue it promised as part of its bid for the franchise, ministers could decide to offer the licence to other operators. But it is doubtful if any other company could fulfill the promise of a ?1.3bn premium without huge rises in fares.

A spokesman for GNER said it would be a "very partial" representation of Mr Garnett's speech to suggest he was attacking the Government. He confirmed GNER was considering legal action over a system which allowed open access operators to bid for slots on the basis of lower charges.

See also:

Government control is harming railways, says train operator

The Guardian: March 29, 2006
Mark Milner

One of the rail industry's leading executives has warned the government it could face a backlash over its tightening control of rail franchising.

Christopher Garnett, the chief executive of train operator GNER, said rail companies were losing the flexibility to run more trains, change timetables and maximise revenue.

"I think there is an extraordinary amount of government control in what we are now doing ... the government lays down the specification in the franchises; the government buys what that specification is," he said.

"What I find slightly distasteful, though, is that having bought what it is they have bought, they then almost deny that that is what they have bought, and start to blame the franchisee."

In a transcript of a speech to rail managers seen by the Guardian, Mr Garnett warned rail fares would rise "quite heavily" over the next few years. "We make no secret that we make about 4% on those fares. That money is all going to the government. And therefore we are filling up our trains all the more. And charging people more and more. And they are going to have fewer and fewer seats."

The GNER chief executive questioned how long the present system could last. "I think what the present system has is enormous exposure to government ministers. They are buying and running the railway. They have got nowhere to hide."

Mr Garnett was speaking to a gathering of railway managers last Friday, the day after the Office of Rail Regulation said it would allow a new operator, Grand Central, to run services on the east coast mainline. The decision infuriated GNER, which claimed it would lose revenues. Mr Garnett said his firm had been encouraged to bid for the franchise on the basis that so-called "open access operators" would not be allowed extra "paths" to run services.

Transport officials monitoring financial state of GNER parent

Independent Online: 28 March 2006
By Michael Harrison, Business Editor

Department of Transport officials are understood to be monitoring the financial position of Sea Containers, the New York-listed owner of the UK rail company GNER, in case they have to step in to safeguard its Inter-City services on the East Coast main line.

Shares in GNER's parent company fell 38 per cent last Friday after the company announced it was in breach of its banking covenants following a $500m (£290m) write-down in the value of Sea Containers' ferries business. The shares fell a further 17 per cent in New York yesterday.

The financial difficulties of Sea Containers have cast a shadow over GNER's 10-year franchise to run services between London King's Cross and Scotland on the East Coast line, one of the country's Blue Riband routes. GNER paid £1.3bn for the new franchise last year.

It had also raised question marks over the company's likelihood of winning any further UK rail franchises. GNER is one of the bidders for South West Trains, the country's biggest commuter network. Last year it bid unsuccessfully for the new Integrated Kent franchise, which will operate high-speed commuter services on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

A GNER spokesman insisted yesterday the travails of its parent company would have no impact on the UK rail business, which was ring-fenced financially from Sea Containers. He said GNER had separate banking facilities from those of Sea Containers and none of the breaches of banking covenants by its parent company affected GNER or the performance bond it had put up in respect of the East Coast main line. He also rejected suggestions GNER's bid for South West Trains would be affected.

A spokeswoman for Sea Containers also said the breach of banking covenants, which relate to the net worth of the company, did not have any impact on GNER. She could not comment on what the position of GNER might be if the parent company was forced into bankruptcy but stressed Sea Containers was not planning for that eventuality.

The warning from the parent company on Friday followed the announcement earlier in the week that its long-standing chairman James Sherwood, 72, is retiring on grounds of age and health. GNER suffered another blow last week after the Rail Regulator rejected its application to increase services on the line, jeopardising the economics of the franchise.

A spokesman for the UK Department of Transport refused to comment on the financial position of GNER or Sea Containers. But he said: "Suffice to say, there are things in the franchise agreement and the legislation to ensure that whatever happens there is no risk to rail services."

GNER threatens to ditch rival's contract

The Guardian: March 28, 2006
Andrew Clark, transport correspondent

The train firm GNER has threatened to strip £1.5m of annual business from a company which provides its rail replacement coaches after discovering that it is bankrolling Grand Central Railways, the controversial new entrant to the intercity network.

GNER yesterday said it was considering severing ties with Fraser Eagle, a family-controlled Lancashire coach company which has confirmed a Guardian report last week that it is the main shareholder behind Grand Central with a 79% stake.

Fraser Eagle is among the biggest providers of buses to the train industry - it specialises in stepping in to cover for track closures due to engineering works or to rescue stranded passengers after unscheduled stoppages.

A GNER spokesman said: "Their contract is under review. We have a process to go through to get a replacement and in the light of this news, it will influence things. They've been deliberately holding back [their involvement in Grand Central] to protect their revenue in the short term."

Fraser Eagle is investing £2.5m to help Grand Central get services off the ground between London and Sunderland which were approved last week by the Office of Rail Regulation despite opposition from the government. GNER is furious about Grand Central's entry to the industry, claiming it will steal its customers and will jeopardise its ability to pay profits back to the Treasury.

Fraser Eagle's managing director, Kevin Dean, is an old British Rail colleague of Grand Central's boss, Ian Yeowart. Mr Dean said he was disappointed by GNER's comments. "We've provided a service to GNER for many years without problems," said Mr Dean. "When they had their Hatfield incident, we helped them significantly - in terms of cashflow as well as everything else."

He pointed out that Grand Central had fulfilled all the regulatory requirements to get on to the national network: "I was once in the rail industry and if you are in, you play by the rules. The rules are the rules and those rules have suited GNER for 10 years. For them to now say they can't accept the rules is a lot of hypocrisy."

GNER is considering a legal challenge to Grand Central's access to the east coast main line. Under the terms of its 10-year franchise, GNER is supposed to pay £1.3bn of profit to the government - but it is already feeling a squeeze on revenue.

Bob MacKenzie, the president of GNER's parent company Sea Containers, told analysts in a conference call on Friday that the July bombings and a slowdown in the economy had hurt the rail operator: "Some of the sales growth assumptions made at the time of the franchise bid now appear to be challenging to achieve."

Sea Containers is facing a financial crisis and has appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers as a strategic adviser. The Bermuda-based company has said it will rule nothing out in a wholesale restructuring of its portfolio, triggering questions over its future ownership of GNER.

March 28, 2006

Big council pension strike begins

BBC News: 2006/03/27
Unison_pensions06-03-23 (68k image)
Up to 1.5m council workers across the UK are beginning a 24-hour strike in a row over pensions.

The action could close schools, libraries and sports centres. Traffic problems are expected in some cities, and refuse collection will also be hit.

The 11 trade unions involved are angry at government plans to scrap a rule that allows some to retire on a full pension at 60.

But the government says the current rule is discriminatory and must go.

The unions say it could be the biggest stoppage in the UK since the General Strike in 1926.

Workers expected to walk out include leisure centre workers, school staff including caretakers, cooks, cleaners and office workers, refuse collectors, housing officers, nursery nurses, youth and community staff and tourism officials.

Unions taking part include Unison, T&G, GMB and Amicus.

Major disruption caused by the strike is set to include:

* The closure of thousands of schools across the UK

* Traffic chaos on Merseyside with the Mersey tunnels and the Mersey ferry to close forcing motorists to take a 40-mile detour via Runcorn Bridge

* The Tyne Tunnel and the Metro in danger of closure in Newcastle

* Picket lines across Scotland and rallies in Glasgow and Edinburgh

Unison's Heather Wakefield said unions had been "pushed into this in order to demonstrate to the government and the local government association just how essential our members are".

"Unfortunately we think that most schools will be closed" - Heather Wakefield, Unison

She said a wide range of services could be hit.

"Unfortunately we think that most schools will be closed, that public transport will be hit and in some places police and fire control rooms will be hit.

"Refuse collection will be hit as will the whole range of public services that our members provide."

On the issue of school closures, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said in the Commons on Monday that staff should think carefully before striking.

"I would urge any staff that are involved to think seriously about the consequences for schools, particularly those who serve special needs children," she added.

Rule 85

Unions have warned of further action in the run-up to the local council elections in May.

"Local authority employees in unions are saying 'we're special, we're more special than you, we want to retire at 60' " - Digby Jones, CBI

At the centre of the dispute is the so-called Rule 85 - which lets staff retire at 60 if their age, plus years worked, equals 85 or more.

If the rule ends, all two million local government workers will work until the age of 65 by 2013.

The unions want workers who signed up for the scheme to have their pension rights protected.

They say this would be treating them in the same way as uniformed police, NHS workers, civil servants and teachers - who can all retire on full pension at 60.

But Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, told BBC News he thought the strike was "a disgrace".

Pensioners and "the lower paid" would suffer most because they "rely on local authorities so much more", he said.

"And why? Because local authority employees in unions are saying 'we're special, we're more special than you, we want to retire at 60'.

"And everybody in the private sector - 14 million people in this country - are being told they've got to work until 65, 67, 68."

Union talks

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister says the rule - which is scheduled to be scrapped in April - must be replaced for all workers.

It says women tend to join the workforce later and take career breaks which makes the current regime discriminatory.

The department held a three-month consultation on the issue, which finished on 28 February.

Talks between Deputy PM John Prescott, the unions and the Local Government Association - which represents local authorities in England and Wales - continued until 14 March when eight trade unions voted for strike action.

March 27, 2006

French airline eyes up high-speed train market

AFX: 03.27.2006

LONDON - Air France could run high-speed trains in its own livery after the total liberalisation of passenger rail services in Europe, Air France-KLM Chairman and CEO Jean-Cyril Spinetta was quoted as saying in French business newspaper, La Tribune.

European Commission liberalisation directives have high-speed passenger train traffic timetabled for complete liberalisation by 2010.

March 26, 2006

Pipe Dreams Over Private Water Supply

Inter Press Service: Mar 23
Sanjay Suri

LONDON - As the only country in the world to have totally privatised water supply, Britain is still not the unqualified success privatisation lobbyists claimed, experts say.

Most developed countries have public water systems, but privatised water supply in Britain is efficient enough. ''The UK system has certainly not 'broken down' and there has not been the intensity of opposition that you find in the global south,'' Peter Hardstaff from the World Development Movement (WDM), a leading independent watchdog on development issues told IPS.

''This is largely because despite the price hikes and the huge profits that water companies made over the first five to ten years of privatisation, water still does not take up a high enough proportion of peoples' income to make it the kind of political issue it is in the global south.''

The honeymoon with privatised water may not last, though. Given the coming water shortages, over the next ten years ''the government may have to step in with some kind of investment rescue package, and water will be back on the political agenda -- just as rail transport is in the UK.'' Privatisation of railway services has been and has been acknowledged by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to have been a disaster.

But efficient as it is, privatisation has not brought any exceptional benefits either, Hardstaff said. ''If you compare the privatised UK system with public systems in other developed countries, based on price, quality, leakage rates, pollution control etc, then the UK system is not, by any stretch of the imagination, 'way ahead of the rest' -- which you would expect it to be if the privatisation advocates were right.''

There is little point in replacing well functioning public systems in developed countries with privatised utilities, Hardstaff said. ''Even though privatisation in developed countries does not face some of the problems it encounters in the developing world, it is still hard to justify on cost, investment, efficiency or competition grounds. I can't see any reason why a developed country government would do it -- aside from pure political ideology -- which is perhaps why no other country has followed the 'UK model'.

The problem in developing countries can be severe, he said. Difficult issues arise ''such as the need to extend networks to large populations living in extreme poverty with little ability to pay for the costs of connection, or exchange rate problems when companies need to pay back shareholders or lenders in dollars or euros or pounds but generate revenue in local currency.''

The World Water Forum that concluded in Mexico City Wednesday has not achieved much, Vicky Cann from the WDM said. ''Important voices have been excluded and while we have been told that there is a consensus on issues such as finance which includes public private partnerships, that is not an accurate representation of the vibrancy of debates happening outside the forum.''

But there were some bright spots, she said. One was the role of the Bolivian government who made clear their opposition to water privatisation and the need for public solutions to the global water crisis. ''Secondly, the UN Secretary General's water and sanitation board has officially endorsed the idea of water utility partnerships,'' she told IPS.

''The crucial thing about these is that these are operators working together to capacity build but on a not-for-profit basis. This is an important part of the debate and we have to hope that south-south public- public partnerships can develop out of this initiative.''

The private sector had been active at the water forum, she said. ''However, it is not just the private companies that are moulding the debate. Discussions with official delegations and international finance institutions here demonstrate that the push for private water continues in these arenas too. Discussions have been held by groups inside the forum to look at public solutions to water but we are a fair way off from seeing that taking a central part of the debate.''

In a report ahead of the water forum titled 'Pipe Dreams', WDM and the non-governmental organisation Public Services International warned that ''water privatisation in developing countries is an ongoing disaster and the private sector is failing to deliver the investment necessary to meet international targets on water and sanitation.''

The report speaks of the failure of water privatisation particularly in Africa.

- Just half of one per cent of private sector investment has gone to sub- Saharan Africa, the area that needs investment in water services the most. - The public purse is repeatedly used to subsidise or bail out the private sector and pay for new connections. - In every case where the private sector has been responsible for extending water access in sub-Saharan Africa, it has failed to deliver the promised level of investment. - 70 per cent of African water privatisations have either been terminated early or are currently in some form of distress.

The report points out that 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water, and 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation, and that 6,000 children die every day because of water related diseases. (END/2006)

Maputo rail line privatisation canned

Mining mx: 26 Mar 2006
Brendan Ryan

THE proposed privatisation of the railway line from the South African border at Ressano Garcia to the Mocambiquan port of Maputo has been cancelled by the Mocambiquan authorities after nearly four years of negotiations with Spoornet.

This was confirmed at the Coaltrans Conference held in Johannesburg by John Muller, MD of the Maputo Coal Terminal (MCT), after Spoornet CEO Siyabonga Gama evaded questions on the status of the privatisation agreement.

The cancellation of the proposed privatisation is understood to be highly embarrassing for Spoornet which launched it with great fanfare in February 2002. At that time Spoornet sent its flagship train, the five star luxury Blue Train, to Maputo with a load of political and business VIPs on board and hyped the agreement as an example of South Africa encouraging the economic development of the broader Southern African sub-region.

The plan was for Spoornet - in collaboration with consortium partner New Limpopo Bridge Project Investments (NLPI) - to spend US$100 million on upgrading the railway line. The consortium was expected to take over management of the line by mid-2002.

Instead, nothing happened. The last official statement from Spoornet on the privatisation was received in reply to written questions submitted by the Financial Mail in August 2004.

At that time a Spoornet spokesman said; "According to the agreement a number of conditions had to be met before the concession could commence - the most important being the land mine clearance certificate that was received only in May 2004. It was only from the end of May 2004 that the process could consequently move towards financial closure."

Gama declined to comment on the concession agreement when this was raised with him in February this year when Spoornet announced its decision to spend 3.5 billion Rand on the purchase of 110 locomotives for use on the Richards Bay line. In his presentation Muller said the privatisation agreement was cancelled by the Mocambiquan authorities in December last year.

He said state-owned Mocambiquan railway operator CFM will now spend US$22m on repairing the line in two phases. Initial emergency repairs are expected to be completed by June this year while full rehabilitation of the line to be able to handle axle loads of 22 tonnes should be completed by the fourth quarter of this year.

Coal exports by the MCT have been hamstrung for the past four years by the inability of Spoornet to deliver contracted volumes of coal and it is significant that Muller himself raised this issue with Gama from the floor during question time after Gama?s presentation.

Muller pointed out that the allocation of resources by Spoornet to the Witbank-Maputo line had been "very limited" and he asked what Spoornet?s plans were for the future of the line. Gama?s reply was; "we have many plans and we shall continue to hold discussions with you."

Muller also dealt with the implications for the MCT of the decision by the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) to implement its Phase 5 expansion which will increase coal exports through Richards Bay by 20 Million tonnes/year to 92Mt/year.

He said the MCT would continue to have a viable role in meeting coal export requirements from Southern Africa and would cater for junior and BEE coal miners which did not meet RBCT criteria as well as for certain "niche" coal markets. The MCT is owned by shipping and transport group Grindrod which Muller said has committed to spending R186m on upgrading and expanding the facilities at the MCT.

This will be done in two stages. The first will be to raise the MCT?s throughput capacity to 3Mt/year through upgrading existing facilities and this would be carried out by 2008.

The second stage is intended to increased throughput capacity to 6Mt/year. That should happen by 2010 but Muller said it will only take place once management is satisfied there will be an increase in railage capacity to get those volumes of coal to Maputo.

GNER parent warns of banking breach

Financial Times: March 25 2006
By Robert Wright,Transport Correspondent

The parent company of GNER, one of Britain's highest-profile train operators, warned yesterday it was in breach of some of its banking agreements, only a year after it won a new franchise and promised to pay the government £1.3bn over 10 years.

Sea Containers - which has its headquarters in London, is registered in Bermuda and listed on the New York Stock Exchange - said it was in discussions with its bankers about changing or waiving the covenants. They were breached after the company was forced to take $500m (£288m) of asset write-downs against its results for the last quarter of 2005, reducing the company's net worth to below the required level.

The problems have prevented Sea Containers from filing a key form outlining its annual results with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Yesterday's announcement came after James Sherwood, 72, Sea Containers' founder, unexpectedly announced he had step-ped down as chairman the previous day. On Thursday, the Office of Rail Regulation announced it was allowing a commercial competitor to GNER to enter the market on its East Coast Main Line route. The decision takes up track capacity that GNER had hoped to use to launch extra services.

Also on Thursday, Moody's announced it was putting Sea Containers' $465m of debt on re-view for downgrade because it was concerned the company could not repay $263m in debt due to mature this year without a successful sale of its Silja Line Baltic ferries business.

Sea Containers said yesterday it expected to sell Silja Line in the second quarter of this year. It would also sell other ferries it had left out of Silja Line, which has been on sale since November.

Managers stressed Sea Containers had cash from the sale of its 25 per cent stake in Orient Express Hotels last year - although it restated the gain from the sale down to $30.8m from $41.1m.

However, they said that even before Thursday's decision by the rail regulator, GNER's business was less healthy than anticipated when the company won the 10-year franchise by offering a record payment to government last March. "Some of the sales growth assumptions made at the time of the bid appear to be challenging," said Robert MacKenzie, president and chief executive.

Managers also admitted Sea Containers' English Channel Hoverspeed fast ferries business had been put into insolvent liquidation. Sea Containers' A shares fell $2.65, or 22 per cent, in New York to $9.41.

March 24, 2006

Westbury-Waterloo fight still on track

Swindon Advertiser: 24 March 2006

THE next step was taken in the fight to save the threatened Waterloo-west Wiltshire train when campaigners met the trains minister last week.

A delegation including councillors from Westbury, Warminster and Bradford on Avon and members of the West Wiltshire Rail Users Group met Derek Twigg MP to encourage him to include the service in the new South Western franchise.

Potential buyers are being invited to bid for the franchise at the end of March, but at the moment the Waterloo train, which serves Westbury, Trowbridge, Bradford and Warminster, is not included.

If the route is not in the invitation to tender it will only survive if bidders offer it as a commercial service outside the franchise.

Cllr Paul O'Callaghan, who is spearheading the campaign in Bradford, said: "The meeting went well. Mr Twigg said he hadn't made his mind up whether he would include it in the franchise and invited us to speak to the five bidders."

He said supporters of the train were also concerned at the news that under the new franchise trains from Bath and Bristol would be limited, meaning the last trains to Westbury would arrive around 9pm. Westbury councillor Pamela Cox-Maidment said she had concerns if the Waterloo train was scrapped it would mean passengers would be forced to pay more for an alternative route.

She said: "The Westbury- Paddington service is one of the most expensive in Europe and costs 60 per cent more than the Waterloo line.

"The west Wiltshire-Waterloo route is very important to many people and needs to be accessible. It is important for commuters and tourism."

She pointed out that every prospective army officer who attended the Royal Commissions Board in Westbury is given a rail pass which would be affected if the route was scrapped.

More Room for Reading ?

RailwayPeople: March 24th 2006

Reading station?s capacity problems could soon be a thing of the past with the announcement of a £78m expansion plan.

The station is one of the worst bottlenecks on the Great Western line, and Reading council hope to alleviate this with four new platforms and realignment of the tracks. A business case is to be handed to Network Rail for consideration.

Work would involve lengthening and widening one platform, a new island platform and two additional bay platforms. Tracks would be adjusted accordingly to allow more stopping capacity and service flexibility.
The proposals will be considered as part of Network Rail?s national rail review process.

Cllr John Howarth, Reading?s lead member for strategic planning and transport, said: ?The plans are affordable, excellent value for money, deliver benefits across a wide area and will underpin Reading?s economic future. I hope we?ll have further progress very soon.?

Tube bosses must reverse 'dangerous downgrading' of fire-safety regime, says RMT

RMT: March 24 2006

LONDON UNDERGROUND has downgraded its own fire-safety regime, despite fierce opposition from its own principal fire engineer and union safety reps, the Tube?s biggest union reveals today.

Changes imposed by LUL have relegated fire-safety to become an adjunct of general health and safety policy, done away with the existing fire inspection programme and even abolished the post of specialist fire-safety advisor, RMT says.

The union has urged the Railways Inspectorate to intervene to get LUL to suspend the changes, and has renewed its call to ministers not to scrap regulations that impose minimum fire-safety standards on sub-surface railway stations throughout Britain.

In an internal email outlining his opposition to changes to LUL's fire-safety management regime, which were imposed at the end of February despite union protests, LUL fire engineer Martin Weller said:

"Overall, I have reluctantly concluded that I cannot support the proposals as presented. At a time when LU is facing the biggest change in fire legislation to hit the UK in 30 years, and when we have evidence that the extensive engineering works that we are currently undertaking are increasing fire risk, it would (in my opinion) be inadvisable in the extreme to reduce the breadth and depth of specialist Fire Safety Management expertise within COO.  I know of no organisation in the UK of a similar size to us and even approaching our fire risk profile which does not retain this type of management expertise.  A few days (or even weeks) training for existing staff cannot replicate the experience and expertise currently resident in that Directorate. I would intuitively anticipate that the proposed alterations will increase costs, rather than decrease them, since overall efficiency is likely to decline."

"It is astonishing that in one breath LUL can tell the London Assembly about the massive problems it experienced in the wake of the July 7 bombings yet with the next insist on changes that even their own fire engineer opposed," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Our safety reps also raised serious concerns about the proposals, yet LUL management have waved them to one side and once more imposed change, despite a promise to postpone implementation to allow for more talks.

"The review that resulted in these changes was seriously flawed. We have discovered that at least one pilot scheme for the new regime never actually took place - a fact that LUL calls a 'minor inaccuracy'.

"We have already asked HMRI to intervene, but it is all the more important now to ensure that the minimum fire-safety standards brought in after the King's Cross fire remain in place.

"For all sorts of reasons - not least the security situation - the fire risk on the London Underground has increased significantly, and now is not the time for LUL to weaken fire-safety management or for ministers to abolish minimum fire-safety standards," Bob Crow said.                     
"These revelations underline the urgent need to retain the existing sub-surface station fire-safety regulations, and we will be seeking an urgent meeting with the minister," said RMT parliamentary group convenor John McDonnell MP.

"If necessary we will use parliamentary procedure to block the start of the inferior arrangements the government intends to introduce so that this matter can be fully debated in parliament."

Notes to editors: Notes on the 1989 sub-surface fire regulations and parliamentary early-day motion on Tube fire safety follow below.

RMT members, including LUL staff who took part in the July 7 rescue operations, will lobby the Deputy Prime Minister's office at Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E, 5DU on Monday March 27 at 11:00, to urge that the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989 remain in place - see separate calling notice to be issued today.

Notes on the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989

The 1989 Regulations make up Section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971, and were added on the recommendation of the Fennell Report into the 1987 King's Cross fire. They cover 'sub-surface stations' throughout Britain, including those on underground systems in Glasgow, Tyne and Wear and London, but also national rail stations which are 'sub-surface', including Birmingham New Street, London's Charing Cross and several in Liverpool. The government's Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2004, as originally drafted, would have repealed the 1971 Act, and with it the Section 12 regulations.

The regulations stipulate minimum safe staffing levels, means of detecting and warning of fires and means of escape and firefighting, as well as standards of fire-resistant construction, training and various other precautions, which are not specified in the Fire Safety Order the government wants to replace them with.

The government's first move to scrap the 1989 regulations - which lay down minimum staffing levels and other safety standards for sub-surface stations - was opposed by the House of Commons' Regulatory Reform Committee in October 2004, following an intervention by RMT parliamentary group convenor John McDonnell. The relevant part of the committee's report is attached.

The government has subsequently said it would repeal the regulations in April 2006, but most recently indicated that it would do so six to 12 months after the Fire Safety Order comes into force. However, the Fire Safety Order and guidance do not give the same statutory protections as in the 1989 Regulations, specifically on:

* Means of escape
* Means of fighting fire
* Means of detection and giving warning
* Fire-resistant construction
* Instruction and training
* Keeping of records
* Additional precautions including practicable steps to prevent smoking, and staffing levels.

Parliamentary Early Day Motion 549, tabled by John McDonnell after the London bombings and signed to date by 64 MPs

EDM 549 - Fire Precautions Regulations
In the name of John McDonnell and 63 others:

"That this House condemns the terrorist attacks on London's public transport network and commends the bravery and professionalism of the emergency services, London Underground, national rail network and London bus service workers who were on hand to provide assistance and support in the immediate aftermath of the attacks; notes that the Government is set to review the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989, introduced following the Fennell Report into the 1987 King's Cross Fire disaster; further notes that the Regulations set out minimum standards for fire precautions in sub-surface railway stations including means of escape, means of fighting fire, minimum staffing levels and staff instruction and training; believes that these minimum standards are even more essential in light of the recent terrorist attacks; and calls on the Government to retain in full the 1989 Regulations."

Row flares over Tube fire safety

ThisisLocalLondon: 24/03/06
By Local London Reporter

A TRANSPORT union has accused London Underground bosses of "dangerously downgrading" fire safety standards.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union said Tube management had scrapped its existing fire inspection programme and abolished the post of specialist fire-safety advisor.

RMT said it had seen an internal email outlining the LUL fire engineer's opposition to the fire safety management.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "It is astonishing that in one breath LUL can tell the London Assembly about the massive problems it experienced in the wake of the July 7 bombings yet with the next insist on changes that even their own fire engineer opposed.

"For all sorts of reasons - not least the security situation - the fire risk on the London Underground has increased significantly, and now is not the time for LUL to weaken fire-safety management or for ministers to abolish minimum fire-safety standards.

"Our safety reps also raised serious concerns about the proposals, yet LUL management have waved them to one side and once more imposed change, despite a promise to postpone implementation to allow for more talks.

"The review that resulted in these changes was seriously flawed. We have discovered that at least one pilot scheme for the new regime never actually took place - a fact that LUL calls a 'minor inaccuracy'.

An LUL spokesman said the Tube had an excellent fire safety record, adding: "The safety of passengers and staff is our top priority.

"The Government's new fire safety regulations proposes a risk assessment-based approach to managing the fire risk, which is what LUL already undertakes.

"We will be happy for Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate to look at our fire safety regulations and we do not believe the fire risk is increasing. In fact, we believe it is decreasing."

Rail privateers hire Blair's top private secretary

The Scotsman: 23-Mar-06

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tony Blair's principal private secretary Ivan Rogers is to leave Downing Street to join the world's biggest financial services company Citigroup , the bank said on Thursday.

Rogers has been appointed to head the UK public sector group in the corporate and investment banking arm of Citigroup.

Rogers will be Citigroup's senior government banker for the United Kingdom, delivering products and services to public sector clients in the UK, the bank said.

Citigroup, the world's biggest bank, is currently advising the UK Department of Transport in relation to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and Eurotunnel, and had previously advised on the formation and financing of Network Rail, operator of Britain's rail infrastructure.

The government this week announced plans for public asset sales worth up to 30 billion pounds by 2010, including the sale of part of its stake in British Energy Group.

Small-scale train operator given green signal on east coast

The Guardian: March 24, 2006
Andrew Clark, transport correspondent

A new train operator, Grand Central Railway, has overcome opposition from the government and won its six-year battle to run a high-speed service between London and the north-east on the inter-city network.

The Office of Rail Regulation yesterday gave Grand Central a rare green light to become an "open access operator", allowing it to run trains without a government franchise on the east coast mainline between Sunderland and the capital. The decision followed a lengthy delay for an oral hearing demanded by rival train operator GNER.

Grand Central employs only two people and has refused to disclose the names of its financial backers. But the Guardian has learned that its potential funders include Fraser Eagle, a family-owned Lancashire coach company, which specialises in providing rail replacement buses.

When contacted yesterday, a Fraser Eagle spokesman said: "We're not in a position to say anything about this at the minute."

Grand Central intends to serve Sunderland, Hartlepool and the outskirts of Middlesbrough - none of which has a direct rail link to London. Its three daily services in each direction will begin in early 2007.

Its approval by the independent regulator was greeted with dismay by the Department for Transport, which says the operation will cost the taxpayer £114m over the next decade by sucking passengers away from GNER and other established train firms which pay a portion of their profits to the Treasury.

A source close to the transport secretary, Alistair Darling, said ministers were "surprised and disappointed" by the rail regulator's decision and were likely to take a fresh look at the access requirements for future operators.

GNER said it was consulting its lawyers about the regime, which allows open access operators to enter the network without paying the same access charges levied on franchised firms. GNER's chief executive, Christopher Garnett, described the ruling as "a grave error of judgment".

"The decision ... creates a recipe for chaos where franchise contracts, awarded in good faith after long and costly competition, then become devalued and undermined by predatory operators," he said.

Grand Central's chief executive, Ian Yeowart, expressed delight at the outcome and brushed aside the government's financial calculations: "I'm sick and tired of the DfT peddling these figures around."

Mr Yeowart said an independent report had concluded that Grand Central would generate passengers who would not otherwise have used the railways and the impact on public finances would be an "absolute maximum" of £17m over 10 years.

See also:

Daily Telegraph: 24/03/2006
By David Millward

GNER signals protest at East Coast trains ruling

Rail regulators defied the Government yesterday by backing plans for Grand Central to operate a direct service between London and Sunderland.

The decision to allow the open access company to run the trains from early 2007 provoked scarcely-veiled threats of legal action from GNER, the main operator on the East Coast main line.

Unless Network Rail can find extra capacity, question marks remain over GNER's plans for an extra five return services between London and Leeds. As a result, the £1.3bn premium GNER agreed to pay the Treasury when it won the 10-year franchise will also be up for negotiation.

Unless the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) decision is reversed, the company will be looking for a rebate of at least £100m.

Ministers are understood to have been "disappointed" and "surprised" by the ORR's final ruling, which flew in the face of the Department for Transport's position.

In asserting their independence from Whitehall Chris Bolt and his fellow regulators have rejected the views of Mike Mitchell, the DfT's rail chief.

Last month, in a letter to Mr Bolt, Mr Mitchell warned that allowing Grand Central to run the Sunderland service would have "a serious impact on the public purse". He said: "We remain to be convinced that there is a justification for the promotion of benefits to Sunderland passengers above those of Leeds."

Industry analysts believe the ORR's decision to allow an open access company onto the congested East Coast main line will make large rail operators think twice when bidding for premium franchises, such as the south west which is up for renewal.

Christopher Garnett, GNER chief executive, described the ruling as a "grave error of judgment". He said: "It is staggering that the ORR has blocked the delivery of a key commitment in a Government-specified rail franchise."

But Ian Yeowart, Grand Central's managing director, praised the ORR for standing firm "in the face of fierce, unjustified and ill-informed criticism".

Mr Bolt said last night the regulator's statutory duties included promoting competition and the use of the railways and that had governed the decision it had taken over the East Coast main line.

"The network is very congested and at times we do find ourselves having to balance the interests of a number of groups of passengers," he said.

But consumer groups representing those who use the East Coast main line voiced their concern.

Colin Foxall, chairman of Passenger Focus, said: "Normally, we would welcome extra services for passengers. It is vital that the capacity study on the east coast mainline is undertaken as soon as possible - it is bizarre that franchise and other access rights have been negotiated in advance of this crucial review. So much for the joined-up railway!"

See also:

Independent Online: 24 March 2006
By Michael Harrison, Business Correspondent

GNER fury over regulator snub

One of Britain's top rail bosses launched a blistering attack on the industry's regulator yesterday after plans to increase services on the East Coast main line were blocked.

Christopher Garnett, the chief executive of GNER, described the Office of Rail Regulation's decision as "incredible" and a "grave error of judgement", and said the company was reviewing its legal position. Mr Garnett accused the ORR of undermining the Government's rail franchising policy and creating a "recipe for chaos".

GNER, which agreed to pay the Government £1.3bn last year for the right to continue operating the franchise for a further 10 years, had applied to increase its services between London and Leeds. But its application for more services, which formed part of its franchise deal with the Government, was rejected by the ORR in favour of allowing a new operator, Grand Central, to use capacity on the East Coast main line to run new services from Sunderland to London.

"It is staggering that the ORR has blocked the delivery of a key commitment in a government-specified rail franchise," Mr Garnett said. "We are at a loss to understand the basis on which this incredible decision has been made.... The ORR has made a grave error of judgement."

The ORR's decision could have serious implications for the financial viability of the new GNER franchise, which was based on being allowed to increase passenger revenues enough to afford the £1.3bn repayment.

One of Britain's top rail bosses launched a blistering attack on the industry's regulator yesterday after plans to increase services on the East Coast main line were blocked.

Christopher Garnett, the chief executive of GNER, described the Office of Rail Regulation's decision as "incredible" and a "grave error of judgement", and said the company was reviewing its legal position. Mr Garnett accused the ORR of undermining the Government's rail franchising policy and creating a "recipe for chaos".

GNER, which agreed to pay the Government £1.3bn last year for the right to continue operating the franchise for a further 10 years, had applied to increase its services between London and Leeds. But its application for more services, which formed part of its franchise deal with the Government, was rejected by the ORR in favour of allowing a new operator, Grand Central, to use capacity on the East Coast main line to run new services from Sunderland to London.

"It is staggering that the ORR has blocked the delivery of a key commitment in a government-specified rail franchise," Mr Garnett said. "We are at a loss to understand the basis on which this incredible decision has been made.... The ORR has made a grave error of judgement."

The ORR's decision could have serious implications for the financial viability of the new GNER franchise, which was based on being allowed to increase passenger revenues enough to afford the £1.3bn repayment.

Guinness calls time on Irish rail link

Irish Examiner: 22/03/06
By Brian O'Mahony, Chief Business Correspondent

guinnesspint (4k image)
GUINNESS is to end its 150-year-old rolling transport contract with Irish Rail - resulting in the transfer of the transportation of 1.3 million kegs annually from rail to road.

The loss of the contract is part of a shake-up by the Dublin brewery as it moves to outsource its entire distribution and logistics business within 12 months.

Up to 11 jobs are under threat at Guinness centres in Claremorris and Cork but no further job losses are envisaged, a spokeswoman for the company said.

In the shakeout, new contracts have been agreed with some existing and some new suppliers, Guinness owner Diageo said in a statement.

Irish Rail will withdraw from the distribution contract over 6-12 months, starting in the north-west in July. Distribution for these areas, as well as Limerick, Galway Cork and Longford, will, in future, be undertaken by Shannon Transport & Logistics.

Last night a spokesman for Irish Rail said the deal went back to the middle of the 19th century.

"As long as the two have been around we have been in the business", he said.

Both sides refused to say what the contract was worth, citing confidentiality.

Volumes of draught beer transported by Irish Rail for Guinness have dipped by 20% in recent years while the road network has improved significantly, the spokesman said.

Rail use also involved significant extra handling because trucks had to be deployed to get the kegs to and form the trains and the better roads made rail use less attractive, he said.

Guinness played down the significance of the move pointing out that 2% of freight goes by rail in Ireland and the Guinness portion of that was just a fraction of 1% of the total rail freight figure.

The supply of Diageo's on-site logistics at St James's Gate in Dublin will transfer to Kammac Plc and Dublin keg distribution will be consolidated into a single contract with current supplier, Budget Transport.

See also:

Ireland Online: 23/03/2006

25 jobs under threat as Irish Rail loses Guinness contract

Twenty-five jobs are under threat at Irish Rail due to the loss of company's distribution contract with Guinness.

The drinks firm announced earlier this week that it would no longer be using the company to distribute goods around the country and will instead be transporting these goods by road.

An Irish Rail spokesman confirmed today that 25 employees were working on the Guinness contract.

He refused to be drawn on whether they would be offered jobs elsewhere in the company, but did say that other freight operations were performing strongly and passenger business was also expanding.

"We will look at that in wider context of our business needs," he added.

March 23, 2006

South Africa govt delays Transnet sale to avert strike

Reuters: Mar 23, 2006

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's Transnet will delay the sale of its commuter train unit by a month to finalise outstanding issues with labour, the government said on Wednesday, and possibly avert another wave of strikes.

Unions and Transnet are deadlocked over the state-owned rail and logistics group's plans to dispose of 7.7 billion rand worth of non-core assets.

The unions, fearing the process aimed at restructuring Transnet could cost 30,000 jobs, staged a series of strikes at Transnet in February and early this month.

In a statement issued after a regular cabinet meeting, the government said the sale of Metrorail to the state-owned South African Rail Commuter Corporation would now be effected on May 1 instead of April 1.

"The meeting agreed that the date for such a transfer should be adjusted from 1 April to 1 May 2006, in order, among others to finalise outstanding issues among all the affected parties," the statement said.

The transfer will take place through a sale agreement for a nominal amount.

Metrorail is among non-core assets that Transnet wants to dispose of as part of a broader strategy to become a focused logistics group and assist the government to achieve its accelerated growth target.

It is key to the government's plans to revamp the public transport system ahead of the 2010 Soccer world cup tournament to be hosted by South Africa.

The government wants to raise economic growth to 6 percent by 2010 from about 4.9 percent now in a bid to halve unemployment and poverty and has identified Transnet as one of the vehicles to achieve this goal.

Train fares set to rise but station closures ruled out

Daily Post: Mar 22 2006
By Rob Merrick

A STUDY has cleared the way for fare increases on trains out of Liverpool's Lime Street station by concluding existing prices are "very low".

The report to the Department for Transport (DfT) found there was an "attractive financial case" for pushing up fares on many routes covered by the Northern rail franchise.

It highlighted how revenue from fares, at just 11 pence per passenger mile, was lower than that enjoyed by many of Britain's other rail operators.

Furthermore, that figure fell to as low as eight pence per passenger mile in big cities such as Liverpool, the study said.

The conclusions of the Northern Review, published yesterday, will confirm the worst suspicions of MPs who first raised the alarm when the study was revealed one year ago.

However, the analysis also concludes there is "no compelling case" for closing any railway stations, axing any lesser-used routes or changing timetables.

Northern Rail, which runs trains from Liverpool to Manchester, Wigan, Warrington, Chester and all across the North, was handed to Merseyrail operator Serco-NedRailways in December 2004.

The review was then ordered to examine whether to raise fares, close lines and replace some services with buses, in order to cut its £300m annual subsidy.

It followed alarm that taxpayers were meeting around half the cost of services, instead of the 35-40% typical on other franchises.

The conclusions are that there is a "poor economic case" for more buses and that any changes to service quality agreements would provoke a passenger backlash. But the study said residents across much of the franchise area had become significantly wealthier in recent years, creating "scope for further increasing fares".

To highlight the low fares, the report pointed to the rail journey from St Helens Junction to Liverpool city centre, which takes just 30 minutes compared to 65 minutes on the bus.

Yet, despite this "competitive advantage", the return peak fare was just five pence higher on the train, at £3.35.

The study suggested the biggest revenue increase would come from a 10% rise in season ticket and reduced fares, with full fare tickets held constant.

However, while this would boost revenue by 1.5%, demand would fall by 5.2%, which would lead to more people driving and increased road congestion.

Welcoming the report, Transport Minister Derek Twigg, the MP for Halton, insisted neither train services nor government subsidy would be cut, but he said nothing about fares.

Mr Twigg added: "There has been concern within the regions affected that the service review would lead to service cuts and fail to support predicted growth and economic development.

"We are committed to supporting current and future rail services in this area".

Region's rail services escape axe

Yorkshire Post: 22 March 2006
Rob Waugh

THE axe hanging over rail services in the region has been removed after a major Government review of the Northern Rail franchise found it was providing good value for money.

The country's biggest rail union, the RMT, said "rail workers and train users alike will breathe a sigh of relief" at the outcome of the review which will mean no service cuts or job losses.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "When the Government gets it wrong we say so ? but when they get it right they deserve to be applauded."

Announcing the results of the review, Derek Twigg, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, said: "The review found that the franchise operates efficiently, with its trains allocated to meet the needs of peak time travel into the major towns and cities.

"It found that revenue through fares, at 11 pence per passenger mile is lower than for other comparable rail operators. In the Passenger Transport Executive areas (main urban areas), which account for 72 per cent of passenger journeys, the figure is as low as eight pence per passenger mile.

"In the light of these findings, and the growth which the franchise is currently experiencing, the Department has concluded that there is no compelling case for amending the current timetable or allocation of rolling stock."

Northern Rail's managing director Heidi Mottram said: "We're delighted with the outcome of the review, which has recognised the efficiency of the operation."

The Northern Rail area covers more than 2,000 services stretching from north of Newcastle and Carlisle, to Scarborough and Cleethorpes, across to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, and into Lincoln and Stafford.

March 22, 2006

£2bn pledged for region's trains

BBC News: 2006/03/21

Train services across the north of England are to receive more than £2bn of public money over the next seven years, the government has confirmed.

The Department for Transport said the cash would subsidise services of Northern Rail, which operates throughout the region.

Transport minister Derek Twigg said over the past year passenger journeys and performance had risen.

He said the projected subsidy for the life of the franchise would be £2.4bn.

Northern Rail was granted a franchise in December 2004 to run train services until 2013.

Economic growth

A review of services was ordered by the Strategic Rail Authority in March 2005.

Announcing the results, Mr Twigg said passenger journeys had grown by 10% in the past 12 months, and now stand at more than 71m passenger journeys each year.

The review found the franchise operated efficiently and was providing value for money.

Northern Rail has reduced the number of some services, but the review found it satisfied peak-time travel requirements.

Mr Twigg said: "There has been concern that the service review would lead to service cuts and fail to support predicted growth and economic development.

"We are committed to supporting current and future rail services in this franchise area and across the rail network."

Trains reduced

Northern Rail's managing director Heidi Mottram said: "We're delighted with the outcome of the review, which has recognised the important contribution of rail services to the economic growth of the North.

"With the review now complete, we will continue working closely with our industry partners to look at improving the service we offer and at ways to grow the business, for the benefit of all concerned."

Last year the company reduced the number of trains between Newcastle and Sunderland from five to one an hour.

It said the move was needed to balance services provided by Tyne and Wear Metro operator Nexus.

Rail worker crushed to death under wheels of broken-down vehicle

The Scotsman: 22 Mar 2006

A RAIL worker was killed yesterday when he became trapped under a vehicle that had been used in overnight work at Waverley Station, Edinburgh.

The man, aged 47, died in an operation to move a broken-down "cherry-picker" vehicle on to a low-loader in Calton Road, beside the station.

He suffered multiple injuries and was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where he died shortly afterwards.

The incident happened just after 4am, when it was still dark, while the vehicle was being moved. There were reports yesterday that the vehicle had slipped, pinning the man underneath it.

The construction union UCATT said the accident reinforced its call for a corporate homicide law to be introduced in Scotland.

Accident investigators closed Calton Road between New Street and Leith Street for several hours while they worked at the scene to establish what happened. The Health and Safety Executive is also carrying out a separate investigation.

A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Police said: "We received a call from ambulance control just after 4am this morning about a man trapped under a vehicle. A group of men from the building site were trying to move a broken down vehicle on to a low-loader.

"The vehicle was moved out into the roadway and somehow one man has been crushed underneath the wheels.

"We do not know how this happened but he suffered severe multiple injuries."

The man's name will be released once all his next of kin have been informed.

He was employed by Border Rail, a sub-contractor to AMEC, which is involved in building new platforms at the station. He was working on the new Balmoral through-platform, one of two being built as part of a £150 million redevelopment to increase capacity for more trains.

The tragedy was treated as a road traffic accident by police because it happened on a road outside the station.

An AMEC spokesman said: "This is a sad incident - we express our condolences with the man's family. A full investigation will be carried out by the police and the HSE has been informed."

AMEC was awarded a £24 million contract in December to build the platforms, due to be completed next year.

Harry Frew, UCATT Scottish secretary, said: "Our thoughts and compassion go out to the family of the dead worker."

Mr Frew added there appeared to have been no improvement in construction site safety despite more than 13 deaths in Scotland last year.

He said: "This only reinforces calls for legislation on corporate homicide in Scotland. We simply cannot continue with the death toll, which has hit the construction industry each year.

"Companies must be held accountable for this reckless carnage that occurs every year. It would appear that deaths in construction, that befall hard-working men and deeply affect their families, are now considered to be an acceptable hazard.

"This has to change. The Scottish Executive has a responsibility to bring in legislation that enforces companies to be held responsible for their actions.

"The construction industry faces the same statistics on an annual basis, yet little is said or reported to the general public. We need to stop these needless deaths now."

Network Rail unveils £1.3bn refurbishment for Waterloo

Independent Online: 22 March 2006
By Barrie Clement, Transport Editor

Rail chiefs unveiled a £1.3bn plan yesterday to redevelop London Waterloo station, increase capacity on services running into the terminus and introduce technology allowing peak fares to vary.

The refurbishment of the station aims to double the capacity of the concourse - dropping it down to street level and lengthen platforms to take 10-carriage, and eventually 12-carriage trains. Waterloo International will be fully integrated with the main station.

Richard Eccles, the head of route planning at Network Rail, said planners intended to introduce a "swipe card" which would allow commuters to travel at different times of day rather than the present fixed-cost season ticket. Passengers arriving at Waterloo between 8am and 9am would pay the same rates as at present, but those arriving an hour either side of the peak would pay lower rates, he said.

Mr Eccles forecast passenger growth would be about 20 per cent on the SouthWest main line over the next 10 years. If each traveller during the morning peak was persuaded to travel outside 8am to 9am on one occasion in 10, then half of this growth forecast could be accommodated without having to take steps to counter overcrowding between 8am and 9am, he said.

The new-look Waterloo could provide 10,000 more seats during the rush hour.

The proposals were published as part of Network Rail's Route Utilisation Strategy. It is understood some £800m of the cost will be borne by taxpayers and passengers, while the rest will come from companies responsible for rebuilding and developing Waterloo.

The strategy will be submitted to the Office of Rail Regulation. After 60 days, if no objection is raised, it becomes the established strategy for the route.

The South West route is operated by South West Trains, which is owned by the transport giant Stagecoach. It faces competition to retain its franchise which, from February 2007, will be expanded to include Island Line, the Isle of Wight route Stagecoach also operates. Rail operator rivals who are also bidding for South Western include Arriva, FirstGroup and the East Coast main line operator GNER.

The chief executive of Network Rail, John Armitt, said the proposed redevelopment of Waterloo station, including the International Terminal, was a cornerstone of the strategy for the route. The state-backed group is to invite expressions of interest from developers for the Waterloo project towards the end the year.

Network Rail outlined plans to begin the enhancement, within three years, of the route from Southampton to the West Coast main line via Reading to allow the passage of larger "big-box" containers preferred by freight operators.

It said: "This strategy proposes a range of measures that will make the most effective and efficient use of the capacity on the South West main line."

South African firm to take over Ethio-Djibouti railway

People's Daily: March 19, 2006

A South African company, COMAZAR, has been selected to administer the 106-year-old railway line that runs from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, it was learned here on Sunday.

According to sources close to the Ethio-Djibouti Railway Company, COMAZAR will be authorized to operate the railway for the coming 25 years, defeating the Indian company RITE in a fierce bid battle.

The sources said the winner will be made public after the railway company's board of directors approves it, adding that further negotiations will be held between the board and COMAZAR.

Over the years, the 1,000-km railway was jointly managed by France (later Djibouti) and Ethiopia. In recent years, the railway failed to give efficient and effective services to travelers.

COMAZAR, founded in 1995, has been active in at least 15 African countries and has established relations and partnerships for more than 10 years with both African and international investors, as well as with commercial banks and international lenders.

Moeletsi, younger brother of Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, is director of COMAZAR, which rehabilitates and grants concessions to railway networks in sub-Saharan Africa. He is also deputy-chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs.

Once administered by COMAZAR, the railway is expected to be equipped with modern technology that will enable it to provide efficient services to commuters and raise its current cargo capacity of 240,000 tons per year to 1.5 million tons per year.

In other developments, the Ethio-Djibouti Railway Company early this month made 153 Djiboutian employees redundant and lay off an additional 622 Ethiopian employees in a bid to pave the way for COMAZAR.

March 21, 2006

RMT welcomes reprieve for Northern Rail services

RMT: March 21 2006

BRITAIN?S BIGGEST rail union today welcomed news that the government?s review of rail services in the north of England will not result in service cuts or job losses.

"Rail workers and train users alike will breathe a sigh of relief that the shadow of the axe has been lifted from vital rail services and jobs in the north of England," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"RMT has waged a consistent campaign to defend Northern Rail services and to win support for a growing role for rail, and it is good news that public opinion appears to have prevailed.

"When the government gets it wrong we say so - but when they get it right they deserve to be applauded.

"When the Strategic Rail Authority brought in the consultants last year its intention was to justify axing services, closing stations and lines, raising fares and cutting jobs.

"No-one shed any tears when the SRA itself was axed, but the shadow of this review has remained hanging over huge swathes of northern England that have already had a belly-full of unnecessary rail cuts.

"Our environment and economy are crying out for a strategy that puts a massive expansion of rail at the centre of efforts to get even more people out of their cars and onto public transport.

"That means a critical role for every part of the network, including rural rail.

"The north of England needs more rail capacity, not less, and there can no room for the short-sighted and destructive ploy of chipping away at services to the point that no-one can use them any more and then killing them off altogether.

"If anything wants cutting it is the shameful amount of money that continues to be drained out of the railway industry by the private sector.

"It would have been nothing short of criminal to have wielded the axe on services while the privateers are still shovelling record amounts of public subsidy into their shareholders' bank accounts," Bob Crow said.

Defend Our Pensions - RALLY

7:30 pm Tuesday 21st March
St Mary Redcliffe School, Somerset Square, Bristol
bristol_pension_rally210306.pdf (123k file)
Speakers: Tony Benn, Tam McFarlane FBU, Rowena Hayward GMB, Steve Mills UNISON, Jerry Hicks Amicus
Chair: Nina Franklin NUT

The attacks on pensions are flying at us from all directions. Whether you work in the private or public sector or you are retired your pension is not safe.

All of the major trade unions are campaigning over pensions. Pensioners' organisations are taking to the streets.

Railway pensions campaign arrives in York tonight

RMT: March 21 2006

THE CAMPAIGN to defend railway workers' pensions arrives in York tonight (March 21) when the leaders of rail unions RMT, ASLEF, TSSA and CSEU/Amicus join members at a mass meeting at the National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, at 18:30.

The rail unions are campaigning together for a pensions deal to maintain benefits, hold contributions at a reasonable level, keep schemes open to new members and streamline the proliferation of sections within the Railways Pension Scheme created by the fragmentation of privatisation.

Tonight's meeting will be addressed by RMT general secretary Bob Crow, ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman, TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty and CSEU/Amicus regional officer Bob Rixham.

The four unions have warned that failure to resolve the crisis before new pension-fund rules trigger massive contribution hikes from July 1 will result in co-ordinated ballots for industrial action across the industry.

The York meeting tonight follows the 'standing-room only' success of their first joint meeting with members earlier this month in Cardiff.

Further meetings are scheduled for Glasgow (March 28), Edinburgh (March 29), Birmingham (April 3), Bristol (April 5), Perth (at the STUC, April 11), Manchester (April 19) and London (April 20).


Note to editors: Tonight's meeting starts at 18:30 at the National railway Museum, Leeman Road, York, YO26 4XJ

RMT demands inclusion of seafarers in minimum wage

RMT: March 20 2006

MARITIME UNION RMT today called on the government to close legal loopholes that deprive most seafarers working on vessels in UK waters of the protection of the minimum wage.

Merchant seafarers are presently only covered by the minimum wage while employed on a UK-registered vessel serving in UK 'internal waters', which effectively excludes most ratings from minimum-wage protection.

'Internal waters' are interpreted by the government only as river estuaries and the straits between the mainland and islands just off the coast, although the UK has jurisdiction over 'territorial waters' 12 miles offshore.

"It is an absolute disgrace that even UK-registered vessels, benefiting from the millions handed out in Tonnage Tax relief, can pay wages below the UK national minimum wage while in UK waters," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Even with the welcome increase announced today the minimum wage is far too low, yet UK employers are sticking two fingers up even at that sum and routinely paying seafarers as little as £2 an hour.
"Foreign nationals on UK ships are already discriminated against through an outrageous exemption from the 1976 Race Relations Act which allows bosses to pay super-exploitative wages - a loophole the government has promised, yet so far failed, to fix.

"Allowing ship-owners to duck the minimum wage as well amounts to a blank cheque for exploitation.
"At the very least the government should change its interpretation of 'internal waters' to include all UK territorial waters, so that at least seafarers working on UK-registered vessels qualify for the minimum wage.

"Far better that all vessels, regardless of the flag they fly, should be bound by UK employment law while they are in UK waters

"Better still that governments work together to find ways of ensuring that maritime employers can no longer avoid observing minimum employment standards just because their workplaces happen to float on water," Bob Crow said.

March 19, 2006

Survivor of Tebay recalls tragedy

BBC News: 17 March 2006
By Chris Stewart, Chief Reporter BBC TV North East & Cumbria

Tom Angus, a survivor of the Tebay tragedy has told the BBC of the moment the runaway trailer came out of the dark without warning to kill four of his workmates.

Tom Angus, who lives in Carnforth, Lancashire, has been a railway worker for 35 years.

"We just heard a 'shhhhhhhhhhhhh' and I just looked at the lads", he said.

"I saw this black object passing me. I didn't know at the time it was a trailer with rails on. It just seemed black....travelling.

"It just killed the lads. I was only feet from it."

The working gang had been sent to Tebay to replace a section of rail and among Mr Angus' workmates to die was 30-year-old Darren Burgess, also of Carnforth.

Mr Angus said the trailer came past without warning

Darren was the son of one of Mr Angus' oldest friends, Tom Burgess - who is also a railway worker.

"It's like a family", said Mr Angus. "I worked with Tom for 20-odd years and then I worked with his son.

"We'll never get over it. The quality of our railway life has gone. After the accident, we've all tended to keep together, telephoning each other and encouraging one another, and that still goes on today.

"We're not back on the main line yet. Our trust has gone. There are a lot of questions that have to be dealt with, and until they're resolved, we won't be going back."

Like Mr Burgess, he believes the accident would not have happened in the days of British Rail, saying the industry was more safety-conscious then.

'Inquiry needed'

The involvement of private contractors means the chain of responsibility can be broken, he said.

Mr Burgess is also critical of the way "possessions" take place - a possession is the process by which stretches of line are closed down for maintenance work.

"There has to be an inquiry into this", he said.

"And we need better possessions. The distances of these possessions are too long. They should be shorter.

"Under British Rail, we would have looked after everything ourselves. We need to get back to those things."

See also:

BBC News: 17 March 2006

Family's agonising wait for news

by Chris Stewart, Chief Reporter, BBC TV North East & Cumbria

For Tom Burgess, there was an agonisingly long wait before the terrible realisation that his son was among the Tebay victims. Mr Burgess said it had turned their lives upside down.

Because Tom Burgess is himself a railway maintenance worker, it was made even longer because he knew about the accident well before it broke on the news.

He told BBC Look North: "I was at work myself that day and we got a phone call to say there'd been an accident at Tebay and there'd been some fatalities.

"Then I realised that Darren had told me he was working at Tebay, so I tried to ring his mobile to see if he knew anything about it. But I couldn't get an answer.

"I got home and made some enquiries at the local depot where he was based, but they couldn't tell me anything.

Darren Burgess had been a railway worker for just six months

"Eventually, we got a call to ask us to go down to the depot. I got Nicola (Darren's partner) and we went down and we were told that Darren was one of the fatalities."

Darren, who was 30, had been a railway worker for just six months, having previously worked for Royal Mail.

He and Nicola had been together for four years and had recently moved into a house they had bought in Carnforth, not far from his father and mother Christine.

"It just seems such a waste", said Tom Burgess.

"At first, you just think it's a terrible accident, but as things get unravelled, you realise it should never have happened.

"It's hard to live with. We've got that for life now. It's turned our lives upside down and put a great strain on everything."

Constant 'worrying'

After the accident, Tom had to return to his own job - in the knowledge that his son had died doing exactly the same sort of work.

"In a way, it helped, but I must admit I don't like working at night now, and the wife certainly doesn't like it," he said.

"She can't rest at home worrying, and I suppose that'll always be there.

"I still can't believe it. We've got what we call green zones and red zones and they should have been safe.

A memorial marks those who died at Tebay

Mr and Mrs Burgess have sat in the public gallery at Newcastle Crown Court and have watched as Connolly and Kennett, the men convicted in the case, have arrived each day for their trial.

The sight of Connolly in particular - "arrogant and showing no sign of remorse", said Mr Burgess - has been particularly difficult for them to deal with.

Mr Burgess says the moment the old British Rail disappeared under privatisation was the moment the issue of rail safety began to change for workers like him and his son.

"At one time, we looked after ourselves. Now, people are working on sites when they have got no local knowledge," he said.

"That would never have happened before [privatisation].

"Especially at night, in the hours of darkness - you need to know what you're doing and where you are."

Tebay: Two years on, survivors still haunted by blood on the tracks

Cumbria News and Star: 18/03/2006
By Anna Burdett

MORE than two years after the Tebay tragedy, seven of the nine survivors can?t face going back to work on the mainline.

What happened in the early hours of February 15 haunts them still when ?20 tons of death? hurtled down the track in pitch blackness and killed four of their colleagues.

One ? 59-year-old Tom Angus ? saw the wagon plough into his friends seconds after he stepped back from the track.

He felt a whoosh of air before seeing a black object roll silently past.

Seconds ticked by as those left standing took in the horrific scene before them. Three men were dead while another, 49-year-old Colin Buckley, lay dying on the track. Five more workers were injured.

Mr Angus, who has not worked on the mainline since the accident in 2004, said: ?We were all looking one way, we were not looking behind us, we thought we didn?t need to.?

Gary Tindall, 46, of Tebay, died instantly as did Darren Burgess, 30, of Carnforth, Lancashire and Chris Waters, 53, of Morecambe, Lancashire.

The men were wearing hard hats but no ear defenders as they were preparing to dismantle the track at about 6am on the West Coast Main Line.

The wagon had been carrying disused rail lines.

Mr Tindall was in charge of safety on the site and he had made sure it was a closed line before allowing the 13-strong team, including two Carlisle welders, to start work.

Mr Angus, from Lancaster, said he was not informed of another worksite up the track at Scout Green.

He said: ?We ran down to the lads but we knew they were dead. We went to see Colin, he was calling out for help but we could not do a thing to help him.?

It took half an hour for the emergency services to reach the isolated site, only accessible on foot down a rough track.

As word got out about the accident, friends and relatives started to ring the dead men?s mobile phones.

Mr Angus said: ?There was a lot of missed calls for those lads. I did not know what to do.?

The nine survivors have supported each other and most are still receiving counselling. Only two have returned to work on the mainline.

Rail bosses should think again

Somerset County Gazette: 18th March 2006
By Helen Rossiter

SOMERSET County Council is calling on rail operator First Great Western to think again about proposed changes to its timetable.

The new timetable, due to come into operation in December (2006), would particularly affect travellers from Frome and Yeovil.

But the changes would have a more positive impact on people commuting to and from Taunton.

Hazel Prior-Sankey, Portfolio Holder for Transport, said: "The council feels strongly that the proposed timetable is a retrograde step particularly in delivering the local, regional and national aims for tackling road congestion and improving access to basic services such as jobs and healthcare.

"The proposals would result in the loss of semi-fast services from Paddington to Exeter and, whilst this will see more trains stopping at Taunton which is to be welcomed, off-peak there will be no stops between Taunton and Reading on every other service. This results in very poor connections at Castle Cary, which is a key point of interchange in the region."

The County Council also finds unacceptable proposals for trains from Castle Cary to arrive at Westbury about eight minutes after onward trains to Newbury have already departed, resulting in waiting times of almost two hours for the next train.

"These proposals mean that Frome and Bruton would have very poor London connections all day, and regional connectivity using these services would be much reduced," added Hazel Prior-Sankey.

"Yeovil is identified as a regionally significant settlement and as such is expected to accommodate significant new growth over the next few years. It is particularly important to maintain strong public transport links between Yeovil and the rest of the region and to reduce the impact of traffic congestion on the strategic road network, which includes the A303 and A358."

The only element of the proposed timetable the County Council welcomes are improvements to services between Taunton and Bristol, which would give Bridgwater and Highbridge an hourly service for the first time.

No rail cuts move, says Government

Evening Standard: 18 March 2006

The Government insists it has no plans to cut rail services in the north of England, but Ministers have asked a team of management consultants to look into services run by Northern Rail.

The Tories claim that will lead to cuts. Shadow transport secretary Chris Grayling said: "In the wake of the news that there are going to be quite significant cuts to services across the West Country and across the south, the inevitable fear is that this is going to lead to similar cuts in the north of England."

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is difficult to understand why the Government would send a team of consultants into Northern Rail with a brief to identify cutbacks to smaller and rural services if they didn't intend those cuts to go ahead."

But transport minister Derek Twigg dismissed the concerns.

"We have no plans to cut services or close stations in the Northern Rail review," he said.

He said the purpose of the review was to look at timetabling. He said the rail service could not "stand still" and he could not rule out some changes.

But he pointed to the £87 million a week being invested in railways and record numbers of passengers. He said £200 million was being spent on improving trains and stations in the franchise area.

"In a multi-billion pound business any business will look at how it gets best value for money and, of course, there will be changes from time to time," he added.

"We are not intending to cut services or close stations in the Northern review. This was originally a SRA (Strategic Rail Authority) exercise which was looking at timetabling because the timetabling hadn't been looked at for some years."

Disused rail tunnel may reopen to halt lorry chaos

Yorkshire Post: 18 March 2006
Paul Whitehouse

£159m plan for trains to carry HGVs
The Woodhead railway line through the Pennines could be reopened to link Yorkshire with Greater Manchester in a radical £159m scheme proposed a quarter of a century after British Rail closed the route.

The Department of Transport and Network Rail has already been approached with details of the ambitious plan by a company called Translink, which was set up specifically to establish the new transport link.

The firm wants to create a "rolling road" of flatbed trains which would carry heavy lorries between freight terminals at Tinsley in Sheffield and Hatfield in Manchester.

Translink's research shows that the scheme could reduce heavy traffic on the A628 Woodhead Pass by up to 90 per cent, cutting congestion and improving safety on the route.

If the scheme succeeds it would solve one of the biggest transport problems in the region because all previous schemes to improve links across the Pennines have been dogged with difficulties.

The A628 is regarded as inadequate but plans to widen the road have always run into difficulties because of the geography of the area and the fact that it runs through a national park.

British Rail closed the original Woodhead railway route in 1981 but one of the key attributes of the line, the tunnel beneath the moors, remains intact.

That was constructed post-war to replace earlier tunnels and was concrete-lined to take the country's first electrified railway route, which ran from Sheffield to Manchester.

Even with the existing tunnel, Translink would face engineering problems because the trackbed would have to be lowered to allow sufficient height for trains carrying articulated trucks on the flatbed wagons.

The company plans to install twin tracks on the route, to allow it to operate a shuttle service of trains between the two freight terminals.

Further engineering improvements would have to be carried out elsewhere on the route.

When complete, the scheme would operate on a similar principle to the Channel Tunnel, with drivers loading their vehicles on to trains to make the 45-minute, 32-mile journey.

Translink has chosen Tinsley as a location for one terminal because of its proximity to the M1, which allows direct links to East Coast ports for Continental traffic, and Hattersley because it is convenient for access to the M67.

The company plans to use eight sets of diesel locomotives and wagons initially, which it says would provide a service frequent enough to absorb 90 per cent of current HGV traffic on the route.

Journey times would be reduced and the environmental impact of trans-pennine freight traffic would also be cut, it says, with additional benefits for people living on the route who are currently affected by the congestion created by lorries.

No one was available from Translink to comment further about the company's proposals and it remains unclear how it plans to finance the scheme which would need private investment.

But a spokesman for the Department of Transport confirmed that it had received some information from the company about the project.

He added: "It is a commercial proposal so it is for them to manage the financial side of it and to seek whatever agreements they would need."

March 17, 2006

Conditions of Service - Catering Staff, Paddington FGW

Circular No: IR/071/06 March 17, 2006

I received a report concerning a number of issues that had arisen following a decision by FGW to withdraw catering on Oxford services from the December timetable.

Prior to this, the company had been actively recruiting staff for these services.

There had not been any proper negotiations prior to this action. Some consultation had taken place, but this had been scant to say the least. Although no actual redundancies have occurred so far, the members concerned have suffered a serious loss of earnings with the reduction in work.

The Regional Organiser is now involved and is attempting to negotiate a solution to the problems. The General Grades Committee has noted the position and is awaiting further reports.

Bob Crow,
General Secretary

Pair jailed for 9 years and 2 years for Tebay rail deaths

BBC News: 17 March 2006

Two men have been jailed for the manslaughter of four rail workers.

Four men - one from Cumbria and three from Lancashire - died after they were hit by a runaway trailer at Tebay, Cumbria, in February 2004.

Mark Connolly, 44, of Anglesey, North Wales, and Roy Kennett, 29, of Maidstone, Kent, were each found guilty of four counts of manslaughter.

On Friday, Connolly was jailed for nine years and Kennett for two years at Newcastle Crown Court.

The four men who died were Colin Buckley, 49, of Carnforth, Lancashire, Darren Burgess, 30, also of Carnforth, Chris Waters, 53, of Morecambe, Lancashire, and Gary Tindall, 46, of Tebay.

They were killed when a wagon carrying 16 tonnes of steel rail tracks came out of the darkness and hit them as they worked on the West Coast Main Line.

Connolly was also found guilty of three counts of breaching health and safety laws.

The jury at Newcastle Crown Court convicted Kennett of a single count of breaching health and safety laws on Thursday.

Both men had denied all the charges.

On Friday, the jury returned majority verdicts of 10-2 to convict Kennett of the manslaughter charges by criminal negligence.

In mitigation, Richard Lissack QC for Connolly said the father-of-two was a "broken man", having lost his home, business and family.

Prosecutor Robert Smith QC said Connolly, the boss of MAC Machinery Services, had deliberately disconnected the hydraulic brakes on two wagons because it was cheaper than repairing the wagons properly.

Connolly had driven a low-loader truck with a railway crane and two wagons to Scout Green in Cumbria to lift ageing track from the West Coast Main Line on to railway wagons.

On the morning of 15 February 2004 Kennett began using the large crane to lift lengths of steel on to the wagons.

Connolly had deliberately disconnected the brakes on the two wagons because the hydraulic systems were in such a bad way they would not work properly in conjunction with the crane.

He then filled cables connecting the crane - usually filled with hydraulic brake fluid - with ball bearings, giving the impression everything was above board.

'Disregard for safety'

Kennett, who was not qualified to operate the crane, had placed wooden 'chocks' under the wheels of the two wagons because he wanted to ensure they did not move as he unloaded the steel rails.

As he began unloading the second wagon, it began to roll down the track after rolling over the 'chocks'.

The noise from an on-site generator meant the track gang had no warning about the trailer's approach.

Supt Alistair Cumming, of British Transport Police, condemned Connolly for his greed and "blatant and premeditated disregard for safety".

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union said the case had shown how easy railway safety could be breached following privatisation.

Service cancelled

The Times: March 17, 2006
Leading article

Darling's credibility on transport nears the end of the line.

Double-decker trains, a new high-speed North-South line, longer trains - these were some of the ways Alistair Darling suggested this week that Britain's crowded rail network would cope with the expected 30 per cent increase in passengers, some 300 million additional rail journeys, in the next 20 years. There is little reason to think that these vague promises have any more substance to them than John Prescott's much trumpeted ten-year development plan for the railways, of which almost nothing now remains. Not only is the Transport Secretary reheating old ideas that have already proved costly and impractical; but while offering such pap to an impatient travelling public, his department is cutting services, scrapping development plans and eroding whatever little independence the privatised train operating companies still have.

Thanks to local initiatives and successful marketing, many of Britain?s loss-making branch lines are now enjoying a sharp growth in passengers. In Cornwall, some have had rises of up to 40 per cent. But so eager is Mr Darling to cut costs that he is now insisting on economies that will almost halve the number of daily services. Train companies, straining to pay inflated premiums to run franchises, also propose to save leasing costs by storing coaches in sidings. The result will be fewer services, more crowded trains and the decline of lines that have been relieving road congestion in Cornwall and other tourist areas.

Meanwhile, Mr Darling has been quietly axing infrastructure spending intended to ease, quickly and relatively cheaply, the bottlenecks. Plans for chords, crossings and relief lines have been scrapped, reopenings deferred, vital new freight routes - such as a reinstated Oxford-Cambridge line - abandoned. Instead, he has repeated pie-in-the-sky proposals that, even if approved, would not be ready for years. Double-decker trains sound fine; but who will pay to have the bridges raised and tunnels widened? Longer trains are logical; but unless platforms are lengthened, or the objections of busybodies such as the Health and Safety Executive are overruled, such simple measures will not happen. As for talk of a new high-speed line, passengers can see, from the stuttering development of Crossrail in London how averse governments, especially this one, are to long-term infrastructure investment.

After several years of successfully keeping a low profile, Mr Darling is finding that inoffensiveness is no substitute for policy. He says railways are not in the business of "carting fresh air around the country". He should halt the cartage of hot air in Whitehall.

The little train that could

BBC News: 2006/03/16
By Russell Hollowood

The announcement of plans to replace the InterCity 125 with a new fleet of express trains will be welcomed by rail passengers tired of creaky old rolling stock.

But this unlikely train has been a rare success story amid the lows and lows of Britain's railways over the past 30 years.

Somehow it still looks modern. Nearly 30 years after it started powering its way up and down the UK, the InterCity 125 doesn't feel like it belongs in the 1970s.

And yet now its time has come. Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has announced that this train, so well recognised throughout the country, is to begin being phased out. He is inviting bids for its replacement - but it's worth considering for a few moments the contribution this train has made.

In the early 1960s, the infamous Dr Beeching introduced enormous reforms to the rail network. In many people's memories, these are characterised by swingeing cuts to the network and closure of hundreds of branch lines and stations. But the real thrust of Beeching was to turn the idea of the railway away from being "everything to everyone" towards being focused on the parts that actually worked.

He was passionate about the railways being seen as a modern transport provider - one of the reasons he was keen to see the end of steam was that it just so old-fashioned. He wanted a totally electrified network, and part of that was a high speed service between cities. Inter-city was born.

The years that followed were times of bold attempts at innovation - supersonic air travel, even going to the Moon. The equivalent for Britain's railways was the attempt to develop the APT, the Advanced Passenger Train, a hi-tech train which would tilt round corners and achieve speeds well in excess of the then typical 80mph maximum.

In as much as the worlds of trains and glamour coincide, this was it. The APT attracted the funding, the hype, and the respect. But all the while, a group of British Rail engineers in Derby had a notion that they could find a simpler, cheaper solution. Some looked down on these engineers. Others even sneered. But the boys from Derby were not distracted.

Technical setbacks

What if, they thought, instead of developing whole new technologies, we simply go with what we know? What if we use tried and tested methods? What if we got really powerful diesel engines, strapped them on lightweight chassis, and put one at each end of a train? Would that not deliver high speeds at a fraction of the cost of electrifying the entire network?

The simple touch of having an engine at either end meant the "turnaround" was slashed - a train could be put back in service almost as quickly as it took a driver to walk to the buffet car

The answer was yes. Workshops in Derby and Crewe set to work building the engines and the result was the InterCity 125.

While the APT - beset by insurmountable technical setbacks - barely left the sidings, the InterCity loco has been dutifully ferrying passengers - latterly, of course, customers - between cities across the UK for the past 30 years.

The prototype 125 began running between Paddington and Bristol in 1975. And in October 1976, the first scheduled 125mph services started. And, unlike the high-speed trains in France or Japan, passengers on the 125 did not have to pay a premium for the express service.

Age of the train

The simple touch of having an engine at either end meant the "turnaround" for trains was slashed. Now complicated sidings manoeuvres were eliminated, and a train could be put back in service almost as quickly as it took a driver to walk to the buffet car.

The 125 became one of BR's few great success stories. It boosted morale in the industry. Passengers had the comfort of air conditioning, proper suspension, and double glazing.

Inspired marketing - take a bow Sir Jimmy Saville - made it a huge hit. And, before long, the UK could claim to have a higher proportion of its rail network travelling at more than 100mph than any other country. InterCity started making profits. This was indeed the age of the train.

You could even make a case that it saved the railway - the 1970s was a time of massive expansion in the motorway network, and without a huge investment in electrification, the rail network would have found it very difficult to compete.

But this is a tale not just of interest to those with a passion for trains, as it had far-reaching effects.

Not least was the "Peterborough effect". Suddenly it became possible for people to live well outside London and to commute on a weekly or daily basis to the capital.

Mind the stop-gap

Cities which had been two hours or more away suddenly became, in effect, suburbs. Property prices saw the impact. And even for non-commuters, it became realistic to go from Newcastle to London in three hours.

Beeching would not have entirely approved - 125s are diesel, not electric - and there are tales of some in the industry taking a time to get used to the new order. At first, for instance, some insisted a traditional oil lamp be hung on both ends of the train.

But the dream of a modern rail network lived on, thanks in no small part to this stop-gap solution which cost hundreds of thousands rather than millions. And now each of those 125s still in service has travelled the equivalent of going to the moon and back three times.

One consolation for those, like me, who love the train is that it's going to be a long goodbye - anything up to 10 years. Ironically, in the world of designing and building high-speed trains, nothing moves fast.

(Russell Hollowood is project developer at the National Railway Museum, York - see internet links, above right.)

Comments on this story:

One of my grandfathers last works for BR was working on the InterCity 125's and everytime I see an image of the train I remember the pride that my grandfather felt for this piece of engineering.
David Forster, Switzerland

I can remember when I was 11 (in 1983) going to London on a day trip from Sunderland taking the new defunct coast route and leaving at an unearthly 0525. On the way back the 125 broke down and it just happened that it was the carriage I was in. The thing I remember was the BR engineers kicking the brakes to try and unstick them. It took them around 30 mins but who cares. They were great trains of the time I will miss them once they go.
Mark Kennedy, London

Great article. The 125's are the greatest trains ever built in this country, and still better than anything produced since. Those who designed and built them deserve great credit - their replacements will have a lot to live up to. In the meantime, we should enjoy them while we can!
Chris Harvey, Bodmin

A fantastic train. Still modern, comfortable and reliable thirty years on.
Jason Marshall, Cardiff

Passing through Paddington station, watching a HST start - all noise, power and smoke - is impressive. There is a sense of raw muscle and energy to a machine that electric trains don't have. Mind you, Eurostar trains....
Lewis Graham, Hitchin, UK

Is it true that they had intended replacing them last year, but they were delayed !
Jonathan, UK

I don't know why people complain about "creaky rolling stock" on the 125s. Compared with the "advanced" rolling stock used by First Great Western on its new Adelante trains, the 125 carriages are great - much more spacious and comfy!
Tim Haveron Jones, Henley on Thames, UK

I've enjoyed using the 125 but I hope they'll take the opportunity to make its successor a lot quieter for those standing on the platform when the train departs. My daughter has to cover her ears because of the screech from the power cars.
Chris Ware, Barry UK

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Currently ONE railways is proudly heralding a new era on the Norwich to London line, by rolling out refurbished rolling stock from these soon to be decommissioned 125 sets.
Adrian Topple, Ipswich

Yes, the IC125 was, and still is, the best train in the country for its job of long distance passenger transport. Let's hope the replacement is at least as good, unlike recent offerings with their noisy engines under every carriage, cramped seating which doesn't line up with the tiny windows, smelly toilets and rocketing fares! And, of course, not be so outrageously expensive that other stations and lines are closed to pay for them. Otherwise we'll just see even more people getting in their cars instead.
Dave Burbridge, Derby, UK

The InterCity 125 is, without doubt, one of the finest trains ever built in Britain. It was a phenomenal commercial success, and it is a fitting tribute to its designers that it has had a long and successful career. However, it is a little long in the tooth now, and it is time to move on. What I really hope is that its replacement is a faster train. 125mph was radical in 1976, but speeds have failed to increase on Britain's railways since then, and we've been overtaken by much of Europe. The replacement of the 125 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really radically upgrade our rail network, and I sincerely hope we don't miss it.
Lee Osborne, London

Living near Inverness, we have a daily IC125 service run by GNER and a regular service to Glasgow or Edinburgh operated by First Scotrail using Turbostars. Many people I know will get up an hour earlier to catch the GNER IC125 rather than stay in bed and catch the Turbostar - which is much newer.
John Wright, Scotland

Jury convicts rail boss for four deaths

Press Association: March 16, 2006

The boss of a railway maintenance firm was today convicted of the manslaughter through gross negligence of four workers who died when a runaway wagon hit them.

Mark Connolly, 44, was also found guilty at Newcastle crown court of three counts of breaching health and safety laws in connection with the tragedy at Tebay in Cumbria two years ago.

The jury also convicted his employee Roy Kennett, 29, of a single count of breaching health and safety laws.

The jurors were still deliberating on four counts of manslaughter against Kennett.

The men died when the fully laden wagon carrying 16 tonnes of steel rail track appeared from nowhere and hit them at about 40mph as they worked on the west coast main line.

The wagon had no working brakes.

Colin Buckley, 49, and Darren Burgess, 30, of Carnforth, Lancashire; Chris Waters, 53, of Morecambe, Lancashire; and Gary Tindall, 46, of Tebay, died almost instantly.

Connolly, of Llanerchymedd, north Wales, and Kennett, of Maidstone, had both denied all the charges.

The jury deliberated for two and a half days before returning unanimous verdicts to four of the eight charges following a two-month trial.

Opening the case for the crown, Robert Smith QC told the panel of six men and six women that Connolly was "grossly negligent" in his actions.

He said Connolly, who ran MAC Machinery Services, had "scant regard" for railway safety and had deliberately disconnected the hydraulic brakes on two wagons.

He had dismantled the brakes for "financial gain" because it was cheaper than repairing the wagons properly.

Connolly's firm was subcontracted to work for the rail maintenance company Carillion, which was working with Network Rail.

He had driven a low-loader truck with a railway crane and two wagons to Scout Green in Cumbria to lift ageing track from the west coast mainline on to railway wagons.

Shortly before 6am on February 15 2004, Kennett began using the large crane - known as a road rail vehicle - to lift lengths of steel on to the wagons. While he worked, Connolly slept in the back of his lorry.

Connolly had deliberately disconnected the brakes on the two wagons because both the hydraulic systems were in such a bad way they would not work properly in conjunction with the crane.

He then filled the cables connecting the wagons to the crane - usually full of hydraulic brake fluid - with ball bearings, giving the impression to an onlooker that everything was above board.

Meanwhile, Kennett had placed wooden "chocks" under the wheels of the two wagons, because he wanted to ensure they did not move as he unloaded the steel rails.

As he began unloading the second wagon it began to roll down the track, having rolled over the "chocks".

Both Kennett and his supervisor Danny Jones frantically tried to stop it getting away, but to no avail.

The noise from an on-site generator meant the track gang did not hear the oncoming wagon.

The victims' families, sitting in the public gallery, broke down in tears as they heard how the men suffered massive injuries, including loss of limbs, when they were struck by the runaway wagon.

After the fatal crash, Connolly admitted to Mr Jones: "I am in the s*** for this."

He told police he was "at a loss" to explain how the accident happened, preferring to blame Jones or Kennett for uncoupling the trailers from the crane incorrectly.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, called for an end to the "ludicrous set-up" that caused the four men's deaths.

"Tebay was not an accident. It was the direct result of the privatisation and fragmentation of our railways and the time has come to stop safety taking second place to profit," he said.

"Two years after Tebay, we still have a confusion of contractors, subcontractors, one-man-and-a-dog owner-operator plant-hire outfits and a host of labour-only agencies.

"That means there is no consistent application of safety standards and no central line of command and communication."

Mr Crow added that Connolly was charged as an individual, not with corporate manslaughter.

March 16, 2006

RMT calls on 'hypocrite' Virgin bosses to trade fairly with their own staff

RMT: March 16 2006

BRITAIN'S BIGGEST rail union today called on "hypocrite" Virgin bosses to trade fairly with its own workforce, as more than 300 Virgin Cross Country guards prepare to step up strike action in a long-running dispute over the erosion of Sunday pay rates.

The RMT guards will strike for 24 hours tomorrow, the 12th day of strike action since the company reneged on a deal to reduce working hours with no loss of pay and refused the union's offer of talks without preconditions at conciliation service Acas. The guards will also strike again on Sunday for the 12th successive weekend.

"Virgin have trumpeted their decision to sell Fairtrade drinks on their trains, but when it comes to their own staff they renege on deals and refuse to enter talks without unacceptable strings. That is called hypocrisy, " RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"The Virgin board have shown contempt for their passengers as well as their workforce by vetoing the deal we had already hammered out, and choosing confrontation instead of talks.

"They have thrown huge sums of money at a simple dispute that would cost them just £6 per Sunday shift to settle.

 "We warned the company that if they turned down our offer of unconditional talks an escalation of the dispute was inevitable.

"Our members entered into a 35-hour week agreement with the company in good faith and they have made it clear that the company's attempts to undermine their action have served only to galvanise their determination to win a just settlement.

"We remain ready for talks, with or without the assistance of Acas, and Virgin know they can avoid further strike action by joining us at the talks table to hammer out a sensible deal," Bob Crow said.


Early Day Motion 1574, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn MP and signed to date by 25 others

"That this House is deeply concerned at the ongoing dispute between Virgin Cross Country and the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT); is further concerned at reports that Virgin may be compromising the safety of passengers by the use of untrained and medically restricted personnel on strike days; regrets that Virgin has refused to return to the negotiating table; and therefore calls on Richard Branson to urge his company immediately to re-open negotiations with the RMT."

Get privateers off the railways, says RMT after Tebay verdict

RMT: March 16 2006

BRITAIN'S BIGGEST rail union today renewed its call for an end to the lethal fragmentation of rail privatisation after a Newcastle jury found sub-contractor Mark Connolly guilty of the manslaughter of four rail workers at Tebay, Cumbria, two years ago.

Chris Waters, Gary Tindall, Colin Buckley and Darren Burgess were killed on the morning of February 15, 2004 when a runaway three-ton flatbed trailer laden with 16 tons of scrap rail struck them after careering downhill for three miles. Nine other workers were injured.

The vehicle, owned by Connolly, had been secured only by a length of two-inch fence-post. The trial heard evidence that the hydraulic brakes had been disconnected deliberately and doctored to avoid their faulty condition being discovered if tested.

The victims all worked for main contractor Carillion, which quickly accepted its civil liability for the deaths and injuries caused by defective equipment.

"Today we should pause to remember those who were killed and injured at Tebay, but we should also pledge to end the ludicrous set-up that caused the disaster," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Tebay was not an accident. It was the direct result of the privatisation and fragmentation of our railways, and the time has come to stop safety taking second place to profit.

"Today, two years after Tebay, we still have a confusion of contractors, subcontractors, one-man-and-a-dog owner-operator plant-hire outfits, and a host of labour-only agencies.

"That means there is no consistent application of safety standards and no central line of command and communication.

"Network Rail brought rail maintenance back in-house for safety and efficiency reasons, and they should now finish that job and bring renewals work back in-house too.

"It makes a change to see someone responsible for workers' deaths face the consequences, but we should remember that Connolly was charged as an individual, not with corporate manslaughter.

"We are still seeing too many corporate killers let off the hook, and we still need the government to keep its promise to change the law so that profit-hungry bosses responsible for workers' deaths end up behind bars where they belong," Bob Crow said.

Meeting against branch line cuts

BBC News: 16 March 2006

Rail users in a Devon town are to meet with senior managers of First Great Western to protest against plans to cut branch line services by more than half. Locals said the cuts will leave Ivybridge "stranded".

The Ivybridge line will have a drop in daily services from 24 to 10.

The public meeting on Thursday evening is being organised by the town's Rail Users Group, which said the changes will leave it "stranded".

First Great Western said the proposed timetable is in line with services the government wants to run from December.

Consultation responses

The Ivybridge Rail Users Group said the town had seen a 70% increase in passenger numbers in the last four years, and locals were concerned what effect the new timetable would have.

It said the cuts would hit everyday commuters, university staff and students, and shoppers going into Plymouth from the town, as well as children who attended Ivybridge Community College coming out of the city.

First Great Western said there had been more than 3,000 responses to a consultation over cuts to rail services in Devon and Cornwall.

The train company said it would study the responses in detail over the next three months to see what changes could be made.

Rail timetable saved at talks

North Devon Gazette: 15 March 2006

EXISTING rail services in North Devon appear to have been safeguarded following a meeting between the North Devon Rail Users Group, rail operator First Great Western and representatives from the Department of Transport and Devon County Council.

The group had argued for the retention of the morning peak commuter service into Exeter Central from Barnstaple - something that has now been agreed by First Great Western, which are taking over the Wessex Trains franchise this year.

The company has also agreed in principle to retain the full service at Umberleigh Station, which is growing in popularity as a convenient rural railhead, and also to examine how the stations at Copplestone and Yeoford can best be served throughout the day.

Furthermore, the evening 20.56 departure from Exeter is also likely to be retained, thus ensuring many long distance travellers have a good onward connection.

The importance of trains serving Exeter Central as well as St David's was also recognised.

According to the group, First Great Western is content with all these changes and will be seeking approval for them from the Department for Transport.

Group chairman John Phillips said: "I think everyone will agree that this is good news all round.

"We are also hopeful that when they have looked at the usage figures provided by Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership, an extra mid-morning service will be judged to be commercially viable thereby retaining a service of 12 trains per day in each direction."

The good news comes after a consultation period for the proposed changes - which sparked thousands of responses from rail users - ended last Wednesday.

Alison Forster, of First Great Western, said: "Timetable experts will analyse feedback and make timetable changes over the next three months.

Welsh rail services 'facing buffers'

Western Mail: Mar 16 2006
Rhodri Clark

A RAIL plan announced yesterday raises the prospect of Welsh lines being axed, according to a passenger watchdog.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said the Government would next year set out plans for rail services over the next 20 to 30 years.

He said resources could be focused on improvements such as double-deck commuter trains in metropolitan areas of England and a possible high-speed railway north from London.

"We cannot be in the business of carting fresh air around the country," he told a rail conference in London.

"Any healthy, confident business should be prepared to look at the services it provides and consider where there is demand and how best to meet it.

"That's not Beeching - it's common sense. And it frees up trains and resources for where they are needed to meet the real demands of a growing network."

Railfuture, a campaign group for passengers, said Mr Darling's words implied cuts in West and Mid Wales.

Guy Hardy, chairman of Railfuture South Wales, said, "The Treasury isn't happy with the cost of the railways. In 2009 they're looking to make a substantial reduction in the £6bn they put into the railways. That's six times more than the cost under British Rail.

"Mr Darling has got the idea that if you chop some little branch lines out, then you're going to save loads of money. He obviously thinks we don't need to build more trains because the rolling stock from the branch lines will help him beef up other services.

"It's redolent of a mean and difficult approach to public transport for the next 20 to 30 years."

He claimed railways under threat included the Fishguard branch, the Heart of Wales line from Swansea to Shrewsbury via Llandrindod, and the Cambrian Coast line to Pwllheli.

Although powers over the Arriva Trains Wales franchise have been devolved to Cardiff, decisions about Network Rail - which owns and maintains the infrastructure - are taken centrally in London. In Scotland, the Scottish Executive specifies and funds what it requires from Network Rail.

Mr Darling said, "It is for government to set the strategic direction of the railway because only government can decide how much to spend.

"The decisions that we take now will shape the railway for generations to come."

Answering questions after his speech, he said he would not have mentioned a north-south high-speed railway if he felt it did not deserve serious consideration.

He said if double-decker trains were introduced to the UK they would probably be in major urban areas.

Darling sets out long-term rail vision

ePolitix.com: Wed, 15 Mar 2006

Britain's railways are set for further expansion under a new long-term plan, Alistair Darling has said.

In a keynote speech on Wednesday, the transport secretary announced he would develop a new vision for meeting rising demand, economic development and protecting the environment.

He also warned that less-used rail lines could be axed or face service reductions.

But Darling said that services overall were improving, adding that forthcoming decisions would deliver further improvements.

"The decisions that we take now will shape the railway for generations to come," he said.

"We have a once and for all chance to get this right, to stop playing catch up and to plan ahead like any other business.

"Next year we will set out firm plans on what we want to buy over the next five years to achieve the capacity, performance and safety we need, as well as the critical major projects, in what is called the high level output specification.

"But that is only one part of what is needed. we also need to set out the future shape of rail for the longer term - over the next 20 - 30 years."

He pledged more high speed trains and measures on meeting "the changing and rightly increasing expectations of passengers".

"We face a complex number of challenges - capacity, supporting economic growth, regeneration and increasingly the environment," Darling said.

"These are all huge questions - and they will present massive challenges in the future.

"So, for the first time in a generation, we have created the conditions of stability, in organisation, structure and funding from which to build a railway which will meet the needs of the future.

"And this stability is matched by a commitment from government to publish a strategy next year that looks to the long term.

"The opportunity is there, and I am confident that if we work together we can deliver what is needed."

Darling considers double-decker trains

Financial Times: March 15 2006
By Robert Wright, Transport Correspondent

Double-decker trains could return after more than 35 years as part of a package of measures designed to cope with the increasing demands on the rail network.

The step, which would require substantial modifications to bridges and tunnels, is one of a number of options being considered to cope with expected passenger and freight growth of 30 per cent over the next 20 years.

Alistair Darling, transport secretary, told a London conference organised by Rail magazine he would examine rigorously the possibility of building a dedicated, high-speed line north from London. He went on to outline his department?s thinking on the project to replace hundreds of ageing Inter-City 125 trains that operate long- distance services on many unelectrified routes.

The three projects will be examined in greater detail next year, when Mr Darling promised to publish a strategy for the next 20-30 years. Passenger rail traffic has grown by 40 per cent in the 10 years since privatisation.

Double-decker trains would be appearing for the first time since 1971, when British Rail withdrew the last of two experimental trains designed and built in 1949 by Oliver Bulleid, a visionary railway engineer. The trains were intended to address the same problem facing modern railway managers: crowded trains calling at short platforms.

They are used commonly in continental Europe and North America, where rail networks have more generous structure gauges ? the technical term for the amount of space allowed for trains through tunnels and under bridges. There was no enhancement to the structure gauge to accommodate the Bulleid trains but they were unacceptably cramped as a result.

The department is likely to explore alternatives such as longer trains or longer platforms before agreeing to work to enhance some lines? structure gauges to accommodate taller trains.

However, for some lines, work to raise bridges and deepen tunnels could prove less complicated than that required to introduce longer trains, which can interfere with signalling equipment and block junctions near stations.

After his speech, Mr Darling said that many of the lines built by the Victorians in the 19th century had two tracks rather than four, which would have allowed for greater capacity.

?There may be cases where we can expand capacity by introducing double-decker trains,? he said. ?Obviously there?s expenditure in dealing with the gauge problem. That may be a better alternative than trying to acquire land and build railways in areas that are already built-up.?

Mr Darling said double-decker trains could be useful around several big conurbations. However, experts believe the idea will be viable mainly on commuter routes south of London.

Iain Coucher, deputy chief executive of Network Rail, the rail infrastructure owner, said the problem was most acute where there were many bridges and tunnels and where there were overhead wires, which would need to be raised.

But double-decker trains could be a good idea elsewhere. ?Where it?s flat, if there are not too many tunnels and bridges, it becomes an attractive option compared with extending platforms,? he said.

Some of the areas with the worst crowding, including South West Trains routes from south-west London, Surrey and Hampshire into London Waterloo, have favourable geography and are electrified with a third rail that could remain.

Work to improve clearances above the track on such routes might cost only a few tens of millions, to judge by similar work done to accommodate taller shipping containers.

Lord Berkeley, head of the Railfreight Group, told the conference routes cleared for double-decker passenger trains could also improve access for trains carrying the taller containers.

On the replacement of the Inter-City 125 trains, Mr Darling said he would be looking to use more energy- efficient technologies in the vehicles, likely to cost a total £1bn. The DfT is co-ordinating the order to achieve economies of scale in buying the trains, to be used by several operators. Mr Darling added a high-speed line could address some transport problems but the issue was complex.

See also:

Good design key to getting rolling stock on track

Financial Times: March 15 2006
By Robert Wright

The key to the future of the busiest railways could be two ageing carriages lying in railway sidings: the last survivors of British Railways? Southern Region?s 4DD stock, the only double-deck trains to operate in Britain, writes Robert Wright.

The trains were a typically daring response by Oliver Bulleid, chief mechanical engineer of the Southern Region, to the challenge of accommodating more passengers on trains between London and Dartford, where platforms were hard to extend.

Bulleid was often an eccentric innovator, once designing a revolutionary steam locomotive resembling a modern diesel, with cabs at both ends.

Because of the extra space needed for steps up to the upper compartments and space constraints, each four-car 4DD train carried only an extra 122 seats above the 386 on a normal four-car train of the time. Modern double-deckers have 40 per cent more seats than single- deck trains.

The Bulleid trains suffered because passengers unfolding themselves out of the cramped compartments took far longer to get off the trains than with normal rolling stock, lengthening times in stations.

The experimental trains were eventually restricted to off-peak services ? at times when their extra capacity was needed least. However, the popularity of modern double-deck trains in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and other parts of the world suggests good designs need not suffer such an ignoble end.

March 15, 2006

RMT welcomes long-term rail vision and renews call for national rail summit

RMT: March 15 2006

BRITAIN'S BIGGEST rail union today welcomed the promise by transport secretary Alistair Darling of a long-term strategy to develop Britain's railways, but warned that efficient long-term growth would not be delivered by the industry's present privatised and fragmented structure.

RMT also renewed its call for a national railways summit to discuss how the industry will help protect Britain's environment and develop its economy.

"RMT will always welcome new investment in our railway network, and a vision for long-term growth is exactly what we need," Bob Crow, the union's general secretary, said today.

"Emphasis on the rail's environmental role is particularly welcome, but if we are to encourage even more people out of their cars and onto trains that must mean a growing role for every part of the network, including rural rail.

"However, without tackling the basic fault-line in the industry, a huge proportion of any new public investment will end up being absorbed by a privatised structure that is both inefficient and parasitic
"Rail investment is already three times more expensive in real terms today than under public ownership, and more than £800 million of public money is already sucked out of the industry every year by the private sector.

"The idea that the private sector is a massive source of investment is a myth. Every penny spent on our railways comes ultimately from taxpayers or fare-payers, and the public has a right to expect that every penny is spent efficiently on improving the network.

"If the government wants to take rolling-stock procurement in hand and ensure value for money it must end the set-up under which leasing companies make obscene profits - otherwise new trains will simply become yet another vehicle to fleece the industry.

"Private train operators are not motivated by a desire to provide a public service. They want to develop cherry-picked, high-premium, high-profit routes, and that is at odds with the need to see every part of the network, including rural railways, play a growing role.

"If the vision outlined today is not to go the same way as the government's now forgotten ten-year plan, its strategy must include re-integration under public ownership," Bob Crow said.


For further information please contact Derek Kotz on 07939 595 092

Rail workers' manslaughter trial jury out

icWales: Mar 14 2006

A jury in the trial of two men accused of the manslaughter of four rail workers today retired to consider its verdicts.

The men were killed when a runaway wagon ploughed into them at about 40mph on a section of the West Coast Main Line near Tebay, Cumbria two years ago.

Mark Connolly, 44, of Coedana, Llanerchymedd, Anglesey, North Wales and Roy Kennett, 29, of Hollingborne, Maidstone, Kent, both deny four counts of manslaughter.

Connolly also denies three counts of breaching Health and Safety laws, and Kennett denies one count.

The four men who died were Colin Buckley, 49, of Carnforth, Lancashire, Darren Burgess, 30, also of Carnforth, Chris Waters, 53, of Morecambe, Lancashire, and Gary Tindall, 46, of Tebay.

The jury of six men and six women, sitting at Newcastle Crown Court, retired this morning after an 11-week trial.

Istanbul rail tunnel set to connect Europe with Asia

Turkish Daily News: March 15, 2006
marmara (9k image)
The grandest transportation project in Istanbul is the rail link that will connect Europe and Asia beneath the strait for the first time.

The Marmaray Project is named for the Marmara Sea, which separates the northern and southern passages of the Turkish straits, and from the Turkish word for "rail."

  The Turkish government on March 13 signed a loan worth 400 million euros ($477 million) with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to finance improvements on rail lines connecting to the tunnel and to buy equipment and materials for the tunnel project. To date the EIB has loaned over 1 billion euros to the Marmaray Project.

When completed by 2009 it will carry up to 75,000 passengers an hour.

  The whole Marmaray project, also financed in large part by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation with a budget of 2.5 billion euros, is part of a larger effort to upgrade 76 kilometers of the city's suburban rail line.

Ways and means:

  Istanbul's modern transport infrastructure, such as it is, has been built for the convenience of the modern automobile. Two suspension bridges span the Bosporus. They are the only way, apart from by boat, to cross the strait, but both are inadequate for the task of handling all the traffic. As it is, all commercial trucks must use the second bridge, which is part of the TEM, or trans-European motorway.

  All these modes of transport have proven insufficient to move hundreds of thousands of daily commuters in a city of 12 million people.

  The municipal government of Istanbul began to develop light rail systems only in the past 15 years as the city's population continued to swell and the roads became ever more clogged.

  Now a network of separate lines forms the city's rail system, including a short underground built by the French in 1875. Travelers can even take a metro line to Istanbul Atat International Airport if they can make it to a connecting station and get down the stairs with their bags.

Business people complain about the length of time it takes to get anywhere in Istanbul because of its enervating traffic jams. There are several options for solving this problem, including building a third bridge across the Bosphorus if agreement can be reached on where to site it, as well as extending the rail and tram systems and of course building more roads.

Technical challenges:

  Dredging and drilling platforms float near Istanbul's iconic Maiden's Tower, just across from the Golden Horn, preparing to immerse tunnel sections in the seabed for the intercontinental tunnel.

  Archaeologists oversee the digging on shore, where the project cuts across the oldest part of the city. This issue has particular resonance in Istanbul because the city is so old and historic. Even extending the metro line from the city center has been delayed because trial runs under the historic Pera district caused cracks in the walls of former embassies and other old buildings.

  Most of that area's historic buildings date only from the 19th century, but the old city has structures of incomparable heritage, including the 1,500-year-old Haghia Sophia. As planned, the Marmaray line will go underground at Yedikule, which marks the farthest reach of the ancient Theodosian walls where they meet the Marmara Sea.

  The inter-continental rail line will then cut across the historic peninsula to connect with a station at Sirkeci, the last European stop on the Orient Express, before crossing under the sea to connect with the old suburban line to Istanbul's far eastern reaches.

Darling to unveil railway expansion

Independent Online: 15 March 2006
By Michael Harrison, Business Editor

Billions to be invested in north-south line and new high-speed trains to meet passenger growth.

Plans for a major expansion of Britain's rail network, including billions of pounds worth of investment in new rolling stock and high-speed lines, will be unveiled today by Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr Darling will use a speech to the National Rail Conference in London to set out an ambitious blueprint for the country's rail network to meet the anticipated growth of passenger numbers over the next 30 years.

On current projections, the Government is due to pump nearly £15bn into the rail network over the next three years. The minister will not provide specific figures on how much more money will be provided, but he will make it clear that increased funding will be made available to cater for the explosion in demand for train travel.

Among the initiatives Mr Darling is expected to highlight are plans for: a new north-south high-speed line, which could cost between £2bn and £4bn; a new fleet of French-style high-speed trains to replace the ageing fleet of InterCity 125 diesel trains; Swiss-style double-decker trains and lengthened platforms to cater for increased passenger and freight demand in the South-east.

Government spending on rail is scheduled to rise from £4.6bn this year to £5.8bn in 2006-07. But it is then forecast to start coming down, falling to £4.4bn by 2008-09 as investment in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link tails off.

Whitehall sources said Mr Darling would make it clear today that the capacity of the network will need to increase and, along with it, investment. How much extra money will be available for rail will, however, have to wait until the Chancellor's Comprehensive Spending Review is completed next year.

The proposals being unveiled today are likely to form the basis for a Railways White Paper to be published next year. It will be akin to the aviation White Paper published in 2004 setting out the Government's plans for a major expansion of UK airport capacity.

Britain's railways carried more than 1 billion passengers - the highest since 1959. The industry has now recovered from the trauma which followed the Hatfield disaster in 2000 and demand for rail travel is forecast to rise by 66 per cent over the next 20 years.

The pressure group Transport 2000 has been lobbying for a major increase in investment to meet this explosion in demand. Among the projects it wants to see brought forward to alleviate "pinch points" in the network are further investment in the East Coast main line, the London Paddington-Reading main line and the London Victoria-Brighton main line, which is restricted to single track in each direction south of Haywards Heath, preventing the introduction of more frequent and faster services.

There is also a shortage of capacity on commuter lines in the North-west and in London, where longer trains and platforms are needed to cater for more passengers arriving into the capital from the South. Stagecoach, the operator of South West Trains, originally planned to invest in double-decker trains for its commuter services into Waterloo but the idea was abandoned.

Mr Darling and senior Department of Transport officials are understood to have met representatives from Transport 2000 a fortnight ago and told them the organisation was "pushing at an open door".
Plans for a major expansion of Britain's rail network, including billions of pounds worth of investment in new rolling stock and high-speed lines, will be unveiled today by Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr Darling will use a speech to the National Rail Conference in London to set out an ambitious blueprint for the country's rail network to meet the anticipated growth of passenger numbers over the next 30 years.

On current projections, the Government is due to pump nearly £15bn into the rail network over the next three years. The minister will not provide specific figures on how much more money will be provided, but he will make it clear that increased funding will be made available to cater for the explosion in demand for train travel.

Among the initiatives Mr Darling is expected to highlight are plans for: a new north-south high-speed line, which could cost between £2bn and £4bn; a new fleet of French-style high-speed trains to replace the ageing fleet of InterCity 125 diesel trains; Swiss-style double-decker trains and lengthened platforms to cater for increased passenger and freight demand in the South-east.

Government spending on rail is scheduled to rise from £4.6bn this year to £5.8bn in 2006-07. But it is then forecast to start coming down, falling to £4.4bn by 2008-09 as investment in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link tails off.

Whitehall sources said Mr Darling would make it clear today that the capacity of the network will need to increase and, along with it, investment. How much extra money will be available for rail will, however, have to wait until the Chancellor's Comprehensive Spending Review is completed next year.

The proposals being unveiled today are likely to form the basis for a Railways White Paper to be published next year. It will be akin to the aviation White Paper published in 2004 setting out the Government's plans for a major expansion of UK airport capacity.

Britain's railways carried more than 1 billion passengers - the highest since 1959. The industry has now recovered from the trauma which followed the Hatfield disaster in 2000 and demand for rail travel is forecast to rise by 66 per cent over the next 20 years.

The pressure group Transport 2000 has been lobbying for a major increase in investment to meet this explosion in demand. Among the projects it wants to see brought forward to alleviate "pinch points" in the network are further investment in the East Coast main line, the London Paddington-Reading main line and the London Victoria-Brighton main line, which is restricted to single track in each direction south of Haywards Heath, preventing the introduction of more frequent and faster services.

There is also a shortage of capacity on commuter lines in the North-west and in London, where longer trains and platforms are needed to cater for more passengers arriving into the capital from the South. Stagecoach, the operator of South West Trains, originally planned to invest in double-decker trains for its commuter services into Waterloo but the idea was abandoned.

Mr Darling and senior Department of Transport officials are understood to have met representatives from Transport 2000 a fortnight ago and told them the organisation was "pushing at an open door".

Future of British trains unveiled

BBC News: 15 March 2006

Plans for the future of Britain's railways, including proposals for double-decker trains, are due to be unveiled by the government.

The announcement is also expected to signal the end for Britain's high-speed Intercity 125 trains, which are set to be replaced after 30 years of service.

The plans are to be unveiled by Transport Secretary Alistair Darling at a rail industry conference in London.

They are intended to help the railways cope with record passenger numbers.

Trains are now taking the greatest number of passengers since the 1950s.

One billion journeys were made by rail last year, prompting the need for bigger trains and better tracks.

To do this the government will propose replacing the Intercity 125 with a new train over the next decade, BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds said.

He said the government was also considering introducing a new high speed line between London and Scotland.

Mr Darling is expected to announce further plans for high speed services between London and all major towns in England.

Radical restructuring

While the government has been eager to point out that the railways are expanding, there are fears that services are being cut and that capacity has reached its full limit.

Shadow transport secretary Chris Grayling, also speaking at the London conference, will say that Network Rail is not providing for the increasing passenger population and should undergo radical restructuring.

He is also expected to say rail improvements are not being carried out as planned, despite a five-fold rise in public subsidy for them.

Environmental transport group Transport 2000 said the government must not miss the opportunity to create a positive future for railways.

"The government must prevent the railways from falling into further decline and contraction and open them up to meet rising demand on what is, after all, Europe's fastest-growing network," the group said.

A rail White Paper is due to be published next year.

Virgin X-Country Dispute - Update

RMT: Circular No: IR/068/06

Dear Colleagues,
Rates of pay for Sunday working - Virgin Cross Country Train Managers - dispute update

I write to advise you that following extensive consultation with members directly involved and participating in this dispute, a decision has been taken by the General Grades Committee to escalate the industrial action currently being taken by our VCX Train manager members.

The continual Sunday stoppages remain in operation until further notice. However, in addition to these, members have been instructed not to book on for any turns of duty between 00.01 hours and 23.59 hours on Friday 17th March 2006.

It was hoped that as this dispute was about Sunday payments, industrial action could be confined to Sundays and so cause minimum disruption to the travelling public. Unfortunately, Virgin Cross Country are not so considerate to the people who pay their wages. They have deliberately dragged out this dispute, thus we are in the position we now find ourselves in.

There is every chance that the company will now see sense, get back round the negotiating table and table a favourable offer. But if not, then the strike next Friday will go ahead.

I again thank all those involved for their continued support and patience.

Yours sincerely,

Bob Crow

March 14, 2006

Transnet boss faces horde of angry protesters

Independent Online South Africa: March 14 2006

Transnet chief executive Maria Ramos has finally come face to face with striking workers, but her insistence that the parastatal's restructuring plans were intended "to build a stronger Transnet" fell on deaf ears.
south_africa_strike_13mar06 (35k image)
A striking government railway union member shouts slogans Monday, March 13, 2006

Ramos accepted a memorandum from striking trade unions in central Johannesburg on Monday, demanding a halt to the parastatal's restructuring plans.

The company's chief executive was lifted on to a truck when workers demanded to see the woman who they claim never consulted them about the restructuring.

"I am not at liberty to say much. However, I assure you I will not walk away from my word. Let us wait and see what comes out of the meeting with (Public Enterprises) Minister Alec Erwin, and then we can take it from there. We are only here to build a stronger Transnet," Ramos said, to boos from the crowd.

'How can you, Maria?'"Phansi ngo Maria Ramos (down with Maria Ramos). You are a gemors [a mess]," angry trade unionists shouted as she spoke.

They held placards reading "Voertsek Ramos", calling on her to negotiate in a manner which they say should be fair to all workers.

Erwin met unions on Monday to discuss the way forward on this issue.

SA Transport and Allied Workers Union president Ezrom Mabyana told Ramos it was disturbing that a sale agreement had been signed with the SA Rail Commuter Corporation, under which Metrorail would fall under the Department of Transport from April 1.

"How can you, Maria, sign an agreement we know nothing of and that we have not agreed to? We sent six to eight memoranda to your office without getting any response. Now we want answers."

'We will make sure no one is left in the workplace'
* Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi threatened that if Transnet did not listen to the demands of the workers, they would mobilise all three million members of Cosatu and the Federation of Unions of South Africa to strike in sympathy.

"You will not only face 50 000 angry workers but millions more when they take to the streets," Vavi said.

Mabyana threatened that Monday's Transnet strike would last for three more days if they did not get a "decent" response.

"We would have no choice but to ensure that the strike lasts for four days. We will make sure no one is left in the workplace. We will take all the trucks, planes, trains and buses to make sure that nobody is left at work."

Mabyana also said that although Transnet claimed that no jobs would be lost in the restructuring, about 30 000 people would be thrown out on the streets.

He stated that it would not be correct to restructure Transnet without consulting the workers.

"We cannot just hear that on April 1 Metrorail will belong to the Department of Transport."

During the mediation process at the weekend, negotiations fell apart when Transnet management announced that they had signed a sale agreement with the SA Rail Commuter Corporation, effective from April 1.

Earlier on Monday, thousands of workers were bused into Johannesburg.

The unions demanded "an end to bad-faith negotiations".

They also called for the removal of the chief negotiator, Pradeep Maharaj, from the restructuring process. Unions also want all retirement benefits in all three Transnet pension funds to be guaranteed by the new employer, whether that employer is the state or a private owner.

Under Transnet's restructuring plans, some companies belonging to it would be transferred to the government and others would be sold to the private sector.

Unions are worried that workers might lose their pension benefits. They said they had not been informed of the service conditions contained in the sale agreement.

"Maria Ramos must know how to manage her people," Vavi said. "Now we are voting with our feet. Decisions cannot just be forced down our throat. That will not be tolerated."

Vavi also said he had received news that the strike had been successful throughout the country.

The SA Communist Party backed the strike action, saying the demands of the workers were reasonable.

"They (Transnet) must stop this arrogance. They are behaving like politicians against workers' rights. We will die where our workers die," the SACP's Ndzipho Kalipa said.

Unions strike as Transnet sells Metro rail  

South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union: 13 March 06

Transnet has gone ahead and signed an agreement to transfer Metro Rail to the SA Rail Commuter Corporation by the end of this month. Yesterday, trains were 'severely affected' as the strike wiped out train services and strikers gathered in Johannesburg.

This includes transfer of employees even though all the issues affecting workers, such as pension have not been resolved. This, Transnet did behind the back of labour, despite vehement denials of unilateralism as well as media assurances that they were consulting fully with their counterparts in labour about the process of restructuring.
SATAWU, UTATU, UASA and SAHRWU, the unions that organize in Transnet were shocked to only learn about this on Saturday (04/03/06) during the pre-mediation meeting where they were briefing the mediator, Charles Nupen about  the respective positions of the restructuring exercise.
As a result, labour has refused to continue and seek an urgent interdict to set aside this agreement. Labour is of the opinion that mediation cannot continue while a spectre of the sale agreement hangs in the background and unilateral decision making and implementation continues.
In effect it means if the process had not been discovered during last Saturday's meeting and had continued, Metrorail workers would have woken up on Saturday, 1 April (just over two weeks from now) with a new employer and without any assurances of job security guarantee and conditions of service and pension benefits.
We need to thrash out all issues regarding protection of worker's rights. We need to establish their job security as well as the protection of all their employment conditions and pensions before any such transfers can be effected.
Labour leaders consult with legal experts about serving the interdict on an urgent basis to reverse the sale agreement and transfer of employees.
Meanwhile Transnet management is hell-bent on pushing through with their unilateral decisions without proper and meaningful engagement. They have dared the unions by stating that it will go ahead with the sale of non-core assets regardless and have appointed transaction advisors whilst there has been insufficient consultation on the future of these businesses.
We shall defend, mobilize and fight for the Trade Union rights to be respected just as we did in 1987 when we felt the right of black trade unions were not being recognized. We will fight against unilateralism with all our might.
The national strike action commences on 13th March, 2006. This will be a launching pad for the second round of strikes, commencing in the ports of Durban, Richards Bay and Cape Town. For much longer than three days.
We will also declare separate disputes of mutual interest in specific business units and pursue strike actions in those.

Turkey signs 544 million euros rail project loans

Reporter.gr: 13 March 2006

Turkey's Treasury said it had signed two loan deals on Monday worth a total 544 million euros ($649 million) for various rail projects, one of them involving construction of a tunnel below Istanbul's Bosphorus Strait.

It signed a 400 million euro loan with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to finance improvements on existing suburban rail lines linking up with the tunnel and to make purchases for the tunnel project itself.

With this loan, total borrowing from the EIB for the project amounts to 1.050 billion euros.

The Treasury also said it had signed a 143.7 million euro loan deal with the World Bank to develop signalling on two railway lines, one from Yenice to Bogazkopru and the other from Mersin to Toprakkale, and to finance other projects for the Turkish State Railways.

The tunnel linking Asia and Europe via the Bosphorus is part of the multi-billion dollar project that will connect suburban train lines on the two sides of Turkey's largest city.

Beijing approves one of two 'maglev' rail lines

Financial Times: March 14 2006
By Geoff Dyer in Shanghai

China gave one green light and one red light yesterday to the cutting-edge technology for trains that levitate on magnetic tracks when the government issued the go-ahead for two new high-speed lines.

The government's planning body said the State Council, China's cabinet, had given its approval to the project to build a new magnetic levitation, or maglev, train line between Shanghai and Hangzhou, a thriving commercial and tourist city 200km to its south-west.

However, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the planning body, said a new high-speed line between Beijing and Shanghai would use conventional wheel technology, in spite of a proposal to build another maglev line between China's two most important cities.

The plans for these high-speed lines, which have been discussed for a number of years, have set off a flurry of lobbying by the German consortium that pioneered the maglev technology, the French makers of TGV trains and Japanese bullet train technology.

The investments are part of an enormous planned expansion in China's rail network, including 5,400km of new high-speed lines in the next four years.

Shanghai already has the only commercially operating maglev train in the world, a 31km line to the city's international airport developed by Transrapid, a consortium that includes Siemens and ThyssenKrupp.

With a maximum speed of 430km an hour, the service has become one of the city's tourist attractions.

However, with the only station far from the city centre and continual questions about the high investment costs, the project has remained controversial.

In a one-line statement on its website, the NDRC said the State Council had approved the new line to Hangzhou but gave no further details on cost, timing or the equipment suppliers.

Over the past week the official Xinhua news agency has quoted officials saying the project would begin construction this year and would cost Rmb35bn ($4.3bn, Euros 3.6bn, £2.5bn).

The new line is likely to cut the current two-hour journey to Hangzhou to as little as 30 minutes and is expected to be ready in time for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

German ministers have said in recent weeks that they believe the Transrapid technology will be used for the new line. However, local papers have suggested the government may opt for a system developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group, a Chinese company.

Xinhua quoted a member of China's National People's Congress saying that "some German technology" would be used. Transrapid did not return phone calls yesterday.

Separately, the NDRC said a new wheel track should be built between Beijing and Shanghai, cutting the time from 13 hours to five hours, although it gave no details about which technology would be used.

Qinghai-Tibet Railway expected to be extended from Lhasa to Xigaze

Chinaview.cn: 2006-03-13

BEIJING, March 13 (Xinhuanet) -- The eye-catching Qinghai-Tibet railway, which will begin its trial runs this July, is expected to be further extended from Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, to Xigaze City in the southwestern part of the region, according to Tibetan chairman Qingba Puncog.

    The projected section between Lhasa and Xigaze is expected to be completed in the period of the 11th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development (2006-2010), Puncog said Saturday in an exclusive interview with Xinhua on the sidelines of the annual session of the Tenth National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislative body.

    The 1,142-kilometer-long Qinghai-Tibet railway, which runs across the frozen tundras of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau and links Golmud of Qinghai with Lhasa, is the first railway connecting Tibet with other parts of China.

    "The world's highest railroad is expected to help further boost economic development in Tibet and bring more benefits to local people," Puncog said.

    Upon completion, the line will link Tibet to China's extensive rail network, with the journey from Beijing to Lhasa - in pressurized aircraft-like carriages - taking 48 hours. Noting that protection of the ecological environment was an essential concern in the design of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, Puncog said the routes were selected so that they would keep away from the major habitats of wild animals.

    As for the so-called "ecological disaster" that some foreign media reports have played up, Puncog stressed that the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has never caused and will never cause any side effects on the ecological environment.

Kyrgyzstan rail-workers' life and death struggle

Chinaworker.org 13/03/06
by Dominic McGrath, CWI

Interview with Bishkek strike leaders
A group of us met the leaders of a new trade union - The Railway Workers' Trade Union - in Bishkek, the capital of the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, on 19 February.

These workers took protest action last year, demanding full union rights and decent conditions and wages. Their desperate struggle involved a hunger strike and threats to set fire to themselves. The CWI organised international solidarity for the Railway Workers' Trade Union.

Finally, the regime of President Bakayev gave way. In January 2006, the rail bosses conceded, at least on paper, to many of the workers' demands. However, the Railway Workers' Trade Union leaders are wary that the regime intends to privatise the rail network and are prepared to take more militant action if sell-off plans are announced or if the concessions made by rail management are not kept to.

A human rights worker, who collaborates closely with the rail workers, introduced the meeting between the rail union and the CWI. She gave us background information to the workers' struggle and the 2005 "Tulip revolution" in Kyrgyzstan:

"After last year's "Tulip Revolution", which saw the regime of President Akayev overthrown and replaced by President Bakayev, all groups and interests lobbied the new regime for their interests.

"The Railway Workers' Trade Union union demanded full union rights. However they soon found out that there was big interest in the privatisation of their industry. Huge sums are involved. The government denied they were interested in privatisation but now they admit it. On 19 January, this year, the government signed a law on privatisation.

"People thought the new regime would respect human rights. It's not true. The old regime of Akayev shot protesters who were against the selling of land to China. No army or police responsible were ever taken to court. But the new Bakayev regime has done nothing about this case. It's also ready to hand back Uzbek refugees to the dictatorship in neighbouring Uzbekistan. These refugees fled last year's army massacre of protesters in the Andijan area of Uzbekistan.

"What's the difference between the Akayev and Bakayev regimes? The old regime was run by crooks and tried hard to hide it. The new regime is open about it.

State repression

"Journalists criticising the government face repression. This is clearly not parliamentary democracy but presidential rule. Nothing has changed.

"Last year, the striking rail workers, demanding union rights, better conditions and pay, held permanent pickets at the rail stations. There were always 'counter pickets'. They arrived in expensive cars with police support. They lived in rail wagons and were fed by management.

"When the Railway Workers' Trade Union strikers threatened to set themselves on fire to get their demands, they meant it. They planned to carry out self-immolation during the inauguration ceremony of President Bakayev. Five minutes after the workers publicly announced this desperate action, the leaders of the strike were re-instated by management.

"The new regime was terrified how the world would view workers setting themselves on fire and gave in to many of the workers' demands. The rail management admitted it has made many mistakes. A court decided the new Railway Workers' Trade Union should be allowed to exist. The rail bosses' promised to re-instate sacked workers. Half of management were sacked by the rail tops. The union also succeeded in getting the rail 'Internal Security Department' [security thugs] set up by management, removed from the workplace. Bosses guaranteed there would be no repression against strike participants, there would be financial transparency of the industry and that specialist workers would not be sacked.

"But it is possible the management will go ahead with selling the rail system.?

Ernest Dokenov, the leader of the Railway Workers' Trade Union, then spoke to us about their struggle.
"The Railway Workers' Trade Union is a small, national, blue collar rail union. We split from the 'official' union, which was set up in 1994, following the demise of the Soviet Union. But the official union was controlled by the bureaucracy from the old regime.

"We decided to set up a proper union, the Railway Workers' Trade Union. Our aim was to organise workers and to defend union rights. Legally, we are now fully independent.

"The rail system is small; around 20 kilometres going North and 120 South. But it links up with other systems. We go all the way to Moscow. So the network is important for the economy and our union can play a key role in workers' struggles.

"At first, the authorities tried to disband us. The previous regime of President Akayev feared us. Things were meant to improve after last year's 'Tulip revolution', which saw Akayev overthrown and replaced by President Bakayev. The Tulip leaders claimed they would improve things for working people. But the current authorities attack our union more openly than when under Akayev. They used old 'Soviet' laws against us that were actually abolished in 1999.

"The rail management threatened to privatise the rail network. If this is done, it will mean job losses and worse conditions for rail workers and rail passengers. They will try to sell the rail network assets.

Engineers and specialist staff could be the first to be sacked. Only skilled workers that can't be replaced will be kept on.

"Last year, the Railway Workers' Trade Union took strike action and extreme measures to fight for our rights. We threatened to burn ourselves alive. We were desperate although we didn?t want to be seen as a destructive force.

Trade unions needed

"Our experience shows us that the only force that changes things are unions. You can't rely on other forces. The television news was told to keep quiet about our struggle and stopped filming us. There was an information blockade. An opposition paper that reported our actions later turned against us. But our struggle meant that eventually we broke out of this.

"We would like international support from unions, especially those in the transport industry. We will not give up. The Railway Workers' Trade Union is not a big union and most workers in Kyrgyzstan are in the 'official' unions. But we are winning more of their members. They see that our struggle won gains. It is ten months since we started our struggle and now even people abroad know about us. The management agreed to raise our wages by 30%. We insist a concrete date is given for each agreement they gave.

"Other strikes are likely. A strike by workers in an air company looms. Two companies merged and are about to sack 500 people.

"Recently, we set up a 'Transport Workers' Party'. It is now officially legal. It includes rail workers and also airport staff. It is a socialist party that is for equality and defence of working people.

"We are following in a good tradition of struggle. Some of the first unions in Czarist Russia were organised by rail workers and the railroads brought the news of the 1917 Russian Revolution to Kyrgyzstan. Now the first genuinely independent union in Kyrgyzstan - the Railway Workers' Trade Union - has been set up by rail workers.

"We like what the CWI says about our struggle. We very much want to learn from the experiences of the workers' movement in Europe. We want to build contact with other unions internationally."

March 12, 2006

What a way to run a railroad

The Economist: Mar 9th 2006
DBAG_Mehdorn (20k image)
Hartmut Mehdorn's vision for Deutsche Bahn includes seaports, cars and bicycles according to this article from pro-privatisation magazine, The Economist. But as Europe's largest rail business expands the chances of DB complying with European Union rail liberalisation directives - opening up to 'competition' - diminish.

FROM the top of his skyscraper on Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, Hartmut Mehdorn likes to train his binoculars on another vast edifice a kilometre away. This is Berlin's new Hauptbahnhof, or central station, a huge glass-clad railway hub, 14 years in the making, that will link all intercity and regional trains from east, west, north and south. It has to be finished by May 26th when Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will preside over a grand opening?just weeks before the start of the 2006 World Cup, which Germany is hosting. The world's football fans will use the services of Deutsche Bahn, Europe's biggest railway, to travel between the 12 cities that are staging matches.

Germany's enduring ability to make the trains run on time should impress visitors. Businessmen and investors, however, may be impressed by something else that Mr Mehdorn has done with Deutsche Bahn. He has taken a huge state-owned railway system, successfully diversified it into other related businesses, and made it profitable. The managers of America's famously troubled Amtrak system, or of Britain's controversial privatised railways, would love to be able to say the same.

Running Deutsche Bahn has been one long battle for the pugnacious Mr Mehdorn. A stocky Berliner, his goal was to turn the Bahn from a heavily subsidised, state-owned railway into a self-financing ?mobility provider?. His style has made him unpopular with some politicians?the mayor of Berlin recently accused him of planning a ?deal made in the madhouse? with the City of Hamburg. But his unfussy bluntness has also won admirers. Despite the halving of the company's workforce over the past 11 years, he is regarded as a boss who cares. It helps that his pay?rumoured to be ?650,000 ($767,000) a year?is modest by fat-cat standards. He also has little time for elaborate public relations. He makes no secret of his love for driving?cars not trains?and says frankly that if it makes more sense to take the plane than the train, that is what he will do.

Mr Mehdorn's adventures with Deutsche Bahn began when he joined as chief executive in 1999, after a career at engineering firms. Through a strategy of acquisition and diversification, he has transformed the group into Europe's biggest rail-freight operator, Germany's biggest bus operator, and the world's number two in airfreight and number three in sea-freight. Deutsche Bahn has just bought Bax Global, an American logistics firm, for $1.1 billion, adding it to Schenker and Stinnes, two German logistics firms which Mr Mehdorn acquired in 2002. The firm is also making more imaginative use of its own technology?it is hoping to sell its digital-radio-network technology to the federal police and emergency services. With car-sharing, multi-storey car parks at stations and even bicycle hire added to its portfolio under Mr Mehdorn, Deutsche Bahn is sending the message that rail is only one part, albeit the core, of the services it provides. Some 34% of the firm's turnover is now outside Germany, and nearly half (46%) of its overall turnover is non-rail.

Mr Mehdorn is spurred by the example of Deutsche Post, whose McKinsey-bred management has turned it from a sleepy sorting office into a global logistics firm. But he also sees no alternative to diversification beyond rail, given the protectionism in Europe, which would otherwise constrain Deutsche Bahn's growth. Despite a 1991 European Union directive which set targets for inter-operability between national rail systems, little progress has been made. ?Imagine if a truck driver had to put in different fuel, change the position of his headlights, and speak the native language every time he crossed a border in Europe, that's what it's like for trains,? fumes Mr Mehdorn. A dozen different types of fire extinguisher are specified across Europe. In Scandinavia every train must carry a gun on board, in case of reindeer. Only recently, after years of wrangling, did Deutsche Bahn and SNCF, its French counterpart, finally agree on streamlining the vital link between Frankfurt and Paris.

Cargo trains imprisoned by national borders cannot make money, Mr Mehdorn says. Only because of its diversification was Deutsche Bahn able to turn its first profit, of ?154m ($181.7m) in 2004, 11 years after it became a (state-owned) joint-stock company. Profits for 2005, not yet announced, are expected to be above ?400m. Although the German railway system as a whole is still heavily subsidised?particularly municipal railways?Deutsche Bahn says it is now free of the need for subsidy.

All aboard for privatisation

Its long-distance and regional passenger routes are certainly profitable. But Mr Mehdorn's critics point to the sluggish growth of rail use. The Bahn scored an own-goal in 2002 by trying to sell tickets with demand-driven pricing?like a low-cost airline?misjudging totally the value its customers placed on flexible rail travel. Passengers deserted in droves. It took until last year to claw numbers back to 1999 levels. Mr Mehdorn insists there is lots of growth potential?half the German population does not yet use rail. Overall rail usage rose by 26% for passengers and 39% for freight between 1993 and 2005, he points out.

Mr Mehdorn may have convinced himself; but his job is to convince investors and politicians that Deutsche Bahn will be fit to sell some of its shares, perhaps 20%, in two or three years' time. Opinions are deeply divided on how the deal should be structured. Mr Mehdorn insists on an ?integrated? solution in which Deutsche Bahn keeps ownership of the tracks. Others argue that control of the tracks stifles competition and, anyway, would make the Bahn impossible for investors to value.

A decision on the privatisation is likely to come this summer. Because of Germany's financial plight, the need to raise cash may weigh more heavily than a desire to do the very best by Deutsche Bahn. After all that Mr Mehdorn has done to get the business into shape, that would be a real pity.

Will Brown be derailed by Network Rail's debt?

Sunday Telegraph: 12/03/2006

The national debt will soar by £20bn if officials decide the company is government-run. Edward Simpkins weighs up the evidence.

Last month the Office for National Statistics decided that London & Continental Railways, the privately owned company building the high-speed link from the Channel Tunnel, would be reclassified from the private to the public sector.

Now the pressure is growing from a range of senior figures in Whitehall and the rail industry to take a fresh look at the much larger question of whether Network Rail, the not-for-profit company that owns the rest of Britain's rail network, should be reclassified in a similar way.

Such a move would be political dynamite. The decision to shift LCR into the public sector had the unwelcome effect for the Government of adding the company's £5bn of borrowings to the national debt.

With Gordon Brown, the chancellor, already struggling to avoid breaching his self-imposed "golden rules" on government borrowing, the addition of Network Rail's vast debts would probably break his sustainable investment rule - that borrowing should not exceed 40pc of gross domestic product.

"LCR's debt is a tiny dollop. Network rail's is a huge amount," one industry executive said. Network Rail currently spends around £5bn a year operating, maintaining and renewing the railways and its debt is expected to peak at more than £20bn over the next few years.

The decision on whether those debts should be brought onto the public balance sheet ultimately rests with Karen Dunnell, the recently appointed National Statistician. Some Whitehall insiders say a Faustian pact existed between the ONS under Len Cook, Dunnell's predecessor, and the Treasury, with the Government promising more independence for the ONS in return for a conservative stance on classifying national debt.

Cook has always rebutted such assertions and maintains that he was impervious to political attempts to influence the work of his office. The ONS remains a department of government but the Treasury is shortly to launch a consultation on granting the body greater independence.

However, Dunnell remains an unknown quantity and the reclassification of LCR looks to some dangerously like a shot across the Government's bows. One person familiar with the situation says that logically the shift in stance over LCR is the start of a slippery slope.

"There is a wider order of issues here, such as why all the Government's PFI [private finance initiative] deals aren't on its balance sheet," he said. "You could -suddenly find yourself with a national debt that is looking much more like Italy's."

The ONS says the key factor in classifying an organisation is the level of influence that the Government can exert over it. In the case of LCR, it concluded that the level of influence amounted to control of the company, through rights given in its articles of association and a special share in the company.

The rights date back to a publicly backed refinancing of LCR in 1999 and include the ability to force the sale or flotation of LCR at any time with a clawback arrangement giving the Government 90 per cent of the proceeds.

The Government also has vetoes over any dividend payments and over the sale of any shares, the right to appoint a non-executive -director and the right to approve LCR's budget.

So how do these provisions compare with the controls and influence that the Government has over Network Rail? In theory, the rail operator is accountable to its 113 "members". But they have no economic interest - apart from a liability to pay £1 each should it go bust - in this vital national asset with an enterprise value approaching £40bn.

If Network Rail were ever sold the government would get 100 per cent of the proceeds, more than the 90 per cent in the case of LCR.

In fact, Network Rail only has its assets because the company was granted them by the secretary of state for transport, who could just as easily take them away again. The assets were granted under the terms of a strict licence, which can be withdrawn for reasons including serious breaches of safety guidelines and, crucially, any change of control of Network Rail.

These provisions give the Government complete control over the sale of the company, just as it has in the case of LCR.

The licence also contains strict rules relating to Network Rail's finances. The company's debt is capped at 90 per cent of the value of its assets but the licence says the company must use "reasonable endeavours" to limit the ratio to 85 per cent.

The last reported figure was 77.2 per cent. But when the company reports its figures for the year to the end of this month the amount of borrowing is expected to be above 80 per cent.

Nor is it fanciful to suppose that the company could ever breach its safety obligations. Following the Hatfield rail crash it emerged that Railtrack, Network Rail's predecessor, had neglected to replace rails as it should have.

Network Rail's management is hailed as a vast improvement over Railtrack's but the emergence of a similar issue could arguably give grounds for the licence to be revoked. And it is the existence of these powers rather than their exercise that is crucial in determining national accounts classification.

Indeed, by forcing Railtrack into administration the Government has already demonstrated that if it wants the railways back then there are means of achieving it without bothering with the niceties.

On top of all these powers, last year the Department for Transport (DfT) abolished the Strategic Rail Authority and took its powers as well. The SRA was a "special member" of Network Rail with the power to terminate the membership of all other members if the company got into financial difficulties. The SRA also had the power to appoint a non-executive director. Both these powers now reside with the Government.

Network Rail's Articles of Association reveal that the "special member" has some pretty special powers, including a veto over any alteration to the articles.

The other main function of the SRA was to "stand behind" debt issued by Network Rail; this role also passes to the DfT. Four years ago the ONS argued that "because this support is considered a contingent liability and is unlikely to be called on" it does not constitute government debt.

However, Chris Grayling, the shadow transport secretary, says: "The Government has underwritten the debt of LCR in a very similar way to how it has underwritten Network Rail's debt. There can now be no justification for keeping Network Rail's debt off the national balance sheet."

As well as standing behind the company's debt, the DfT also funds it with direct grants, of £1.8bn this year, rising to £2.8bn for the next two years. The other source of funding for Network Rail is charges paid by the train operators, which are also supported by grants from the DfT, totalling £5.3bn over the next three years.

"I discovered that the Government has no security over Network Rail's assets, even though it is underwriting the company's debt. What sane person or organisation would provide £20bn of unsecured debt to a private company it had no control over?" Grayling asks.

"The only explanation is that the Government regards Network Rail as a state company."

At last: let's put that rail crisis behind us

The Observer: March 12, 2006
Juliette Jowit, transport editor

Ministers plan high speed line and new trains

Ministers are planning a rail revolution to cope with the overcrowding crisis on the trains caused by a huge rise in passengers. Among schemes the government is considering are a new fleet of high-speed trains, double-decker carriages and a north-south high speed line.

Transport secretary Alistair Darling will use a major national conference to call for massive new investment to pay for the changes. Darling is expected to say Britain's railways need to move to the 'next level' after years spent restructuring it after the collapse of Railtrack, the privatised infrastructure company, and reducing delays that paralysed services in many areas in the first years of the decade. Plans need to be made for growth over the next 30 years, he will say.

After several years of coping with a massive backlog of track repairs and sorting out the chaos of late trains, last year the railways carried more than 1 billion passengers. Official estimates are for growth of 2 per cent a year, but numbers are rising by at least double that rate and on some routes the increase is up to 15 per cent. Overcrowding, particularly on commuter routes into London and other major cities, and the key inter-city mainlines from London to the North East, the North West and South West, is now seen as the biggest problem for the railways.

Railway leaders will ask taxpayers to put up billions more pounds in grants or loan guarantees to fund a massive expansion of the network. However rail industry insiders are warning that the government's promises needed to be matched by more funds. In particular they fear the state will not be quick enough to back a proposed £3bn-£4bn upgrade of the Thameslink London commuter route and the high speed line between London and Scotland.

'Any other market finding the dramatic rise we have would be out there really pushing it, but the government's holding us back time after time,' said Adrian Lyons, director-general of the industry lobby group, the Railway Forum.

Network Rail will use the conference, run by Rail magazine, to call for major investment, including the Thameslink project. The company is also fighting a threat that major upgrade work will be given to outside investors and project management companies. 'Much can be done with better planning, careful tweaking and small scale improvements, but we must not defer the big investment decisions for long,' Iain Coucher, the deputy chief executive, is expected to say.

A company insider said some of the funding could come from continuing cost cuts, running at £300m-£400m a year, but the investment would also need government support - either from grants, raising fares, or more backing for the company's loans. Network Rail's debt is already expected to hit nearly £24bn in 2013-14.

The new Conservative shadow transport secretary Chris Grayling will try to make a break with the past too, admitting the 'contribution' of the Tory rail privatisation to the 'difficulties' of the industry, and distancing himself and colleagues from that decision.

March 11, 2006

Rail Unions will strike against plan to sell off Transnet

Mail & Guardian: 10 March 2006
Matuma Letsoalo
SATAWU (5k image)
Labour is preparing for a nationwide strike involving 60 000 workers, but Transnet spokesperson says Transnet is pressing ahead with reshaping the company.

Transnet management gave notice that it would press ahead with its decision to dispose of non-core business units and announced its appointment of Standard Bank as its transaction adviser. It also announced that Metrorail would be transferred into the South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC) under the Department of Transport by way of sale agreement.

All this while the parastatal braces itself for a nationwide strike that will see more than 60 000 Trans-net workers down tools to protest against the company?s restructuring plans.

The strike, which was originally planned for Monday, was postponed because of the start of the rape trial against former deputy president Jacob Zuma.

A last-minute meeting between union leadership and Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin with the aim of averting the strike was held on Thursday.

Despite the ongoing altercation, the company has already revealed the next step in its turn-around strategy aimed at reshaping Transnet into a rail, ports and pipelines company.

The transfer of Metrorail from Transnet is set to take place by the end of this month. However, labour unions plan to lodge an urgent interdict on Friday to prevent the company from implementing its turn-around strategy.

South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) general secretary Randall Howard said the unions had also decided to suspend their participation in the mediation process headed by Charles Nupen.

Howard said the unions only became aware last Saturday, during the pre-mediation meeting, that Transnet had signed an agreement to transfer Metrorail to SARCC.

?Labour is of the opinion that mediation cannot continue while a spectre of the sale agreement hangs in the background and unilateral decision-making and implementation continues.

?In effect it means, if the process had not been discovered during last Saturday?s meeting and had continued, Metrorail workers would have woken up on April 1 with a new employer and without any assurances of job security, guarantee and conditions of service and pension benefits,? said Howard.

United Transport and Allied Trade Union general secretary Chris de Vos said the agreement to transfer Metrorail would have a detrimental effect on workers belonging to the exisiting pension fund because of their vested tax rights.

Until March 1998, all Transnet employees were exempt from paying tax on a lump-sum withdrawal. De Vos said an agreement was reached between the government and labour that all vested tax rights would remain free for workers employed by Transnet before 1998.

?Our concern now is that our members will forfeit their tax-free status if they are moved to another company,? De Vos said. He argues that workers should retain membership of their current fund.

However, Transnet spokesperson, John Dludlu gave assurances that neither the benefits nor the conditions of service would be negatively affected by the transfers.

?As an example, after the transfer SAA [South African Airways] ? which is being migrated over to the Department of Public Enterprises via a share transaction ? will still be the employer. The same applies to Autopax, which is due to be sold to the private sector,? he said.

Dludlu added that the transfer of Metrorail cannot be postponed indefinitely, as it has been on the cards for almost a year now.

?Besides, no reasons have been given to us on why the transfer cannot be effected effectively, sensitively and effectively [sic] on April 1 2006.? Dludlu said Transnet had already reached an agreement with the SARCC and the Department of Transport on the terms and conditions of Metrorail staff.

?No Metrorail employee will be worse off as a result of the transfer of Metrorail to the SARCC, which will be good for the commuter public. That [much] the unions have not opposed. We have ensured that the benefits, housing, travel concessions and pensions are protected and not adversely affected by the transfer,? said Dludlu.

But Howard described Transnet?s comments as untrue and arrogant.

?The reality is that the unions were not involved in the agreement regarding the transfer of Metrorail. There are still a number of outstanding issues in as far as pension funds are concerned.

?What we are dealing with here is dishonesty, because what Trans-net management is saying about consultations is what we are [still] demanding.

?Our position has not changed and unless Transnet and the government concede that unilateralism undermine labour, we will strike until the attitude change.?

The unions demand that existing guarantees for Metrorail workers be transferred in their current form.

Thousands challenge new 'Greater Western' timetables

Railnews: 11 Mar 2006

THE first challenge for the government?s new form of letting passenger train franchises is to come after thousands of people responded to details of the proposed new Greater Western timetable, planned for later this year.

The draft timetable is based on the Department for Transport's specification as set out in the original Invitation to Tender for the Greater Western franchise.

But after a public consultation period closed on 8 March, FirstGroup ? which has been awarded the new franchise in return for paying the government around £1 billion premium ? disclosed that it had received 3,350 individual emails and letters as well as petitions with a total of around 5,300 signatories.

Alison Forster, Managing Director of First Great Western, says: "We can only operate additional services, over and above those in the Department for Transport's specification, if services are commercially viable and there is capacity on the rail network to accommodate them.

"We won't be able to accommodate every suggestion but we do promise to look at all the feedback we have received and make changes where they are possible within the financial and timetable constraints of the franchise.

"We're extremely grateful to all those who have taken the trouble to make their views known. We know that there are concerns about some of the proposed changes in parts of our region and that's why we've given everyone the chance to give their feedback."

First Great Western will analyse feedback and make timetable changes over the next three months. The revised timetable will need to be approved by the Department for Transport, Network Rail and industry partners including other train operators, explained First.

The finalised timetable will be introduced early in December 2006.

Taiwan Rail chief resigns over death of five rail workers

The China Post: 2006/3/11

Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) chief Hsu Da-wen resigned yesterday following a railway accident that killed five maintenance workers in the eastern county of Hualien. Prosecutors and the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) have started investigations into the case.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi said she has already approved Hsu's resignation.

Kuo said the TRA's failure to follow standard operating procedures (SOP) has caused several accidents in the past few years, including the latest one when five workers were hit and killed by a fast-moving express train at around midnight yesterday.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communication (MOTC) will closely monitor the TRA in the future to make sure it follows all safety measures, she said.

Hsu, who tendered his resignation to the minister following the accident, said he feels deep regret and sorrow over the tragic deaths of five of the TRA's maintenance staff. "I must take the blame and resign," he said.

The MOTC also disciplined seven TRA officials stationed in Hualien who were held responsible for the accident.

The incident occurred about 1 a.m. near Chungteh Station in Hualien County, east Taiwan, when an express train knocked down and killed five of the six linemen working along the tracks around 1 a.m.

The TRA said that the six linemen went to a section near Chungteh Station to repair an electric cable following an electrical short-circuit.

The workers had notified the Chungteh station master that they were going to carry out the repair work, but the station did not notify the in-coming train to change tracks.

The train driver said that he did not see the workers in the dark, and there was no signal to warn him to change tracks.

The sole survivor of the six workers said he was lucky to escape death, because he was turning around to pick his tools when the train -- running at a speed of 105 km per hour -- mowed down his five coworkers aged between 49 and 58.

Prosecutors rushed to Hualien to start interviewing train station managers and staff in the afternoon in order to find the cause of the accident.

They said they were still gathering evidence and had not yet pinned down any particular person.

CLA officials said that a total of 17 major vocational incidents took place in the past five years, claiming 19 lives.

But the TRA was responsible for 13 cases, showing the slack safety management at the government-run rail service agency.

CLA Chairman Lee Ying-yuan has instructed staff to give a NT$100,000 condolence fee to the family of each of the victims.

Other CLA officials said Hsu could face a jail term of under three years while the chiefs for the rail section could be imprisoned for up to five years if they are held responsible for the accident.

Meanwhile, the CLA is sending a team of safety expert to the TRA to help improve work safety and prevent more accidents, they said.

Rail unions renew pensions talks call after Cardiff success

RMT: March 10 2006

RAIL UNIONS RMT, ASLEF, TSSA and CSEU renewed their call to the government and rail employers to negotiate an end to the industry's looming pensions crisis after the ?standing-room only? success of their first joint meeting with members last night in Cardiff.

The rail unions are campaigning jointly for a pensions deal that will keep contributions at a reasonable level, maintain benefits, keep schemes open to new members and streamline the proliferation of sections within the Railways Pension Scheme created by the fragmentation of privatisation.

They have warned that failure to resolve the dispute before pension-fund rules trigger massive contribution hikes from July 1 will result in co-ordinated ballots for industrial action across the industry.

"The excellent turnout in Cardiff last night underlines just how seriously our members take the security of their pensions. The sense of unity and determination was clear for all to see," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

"Failure to deal with the mess that exists today will become a rod for the government's own back because it is they who will have to pick up the pieces when it all starts falling apart at the seams," said ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman.

"It is time for the government and the rail employers to respond to our repeated requests and start talking to us seriously," said TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty.

"The message we are getting across is that doing nothing is not an option - and our members will simply not accept the prospect of poverty in retirement," said Amicus/CSEU regional officer Bryan Godsall. 

Further meetings are scheduled for York (March 21), Glasgow (March 28), Edinburgh (March 29), Birmingham (April 3), Bristol (April 5) Perth (at the STUC, April 11), Manchester (April 19) and London (April 20).

Virgin XC guards to escalate dispute over erosion of Sunday pay rates

RMT: March 10 2006

RMT GUARDS working for Virgin Cross Country are to escalate their dispute over the erosion of their Sunday pay rates with an additional stoppage on Friday March 17.

The more than 300 guards will also strike this coming Sunday (March 12) - their eleventh successive Sunday strike since action began on New Year's Day.

"This dispute could and should have been settled long ago, but for reasons best know to themselves the Virgin board blocked the deal we had already negotiated," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today
"We have since offered them unconditional talks at conciliation service Acas yet it seems they would rather have confrontation, even though a deal would cost them only £6 per Sunday shift.

"We had hoped we could persuade the company to settle this dispute with minimum disruption to the travelling public, but after ten weeks of Sunday action they have left us with no option but to escalate.

"After consulting RMT reps and members we have given the company notice that our members will not book on for duties that commence between a minute after midnight on Friday, March 17 and a minute before the following midnight.

"The company should realise that their attempts to spend huge sums of money on undermining our action have only hardened our members' resolve, and that the time has come to accept our offer to negotiate without strings," Bob Crow said. 

Early Day Motion 1574, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn MP and signed to date by 25 others

"That this House is deeply concerned at the ongoing dispute between Virgin Cross Country and the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT); is further concerned at reports that Virgin may be compromising the safety of passengers by the use of untrained and medically restricted personnel on strike days; regrets that Virgin has refused to return to the negotiating table; and therefore calls on Richard Branson to urge his company immediately to re-open negotiations with the RMT."

March 10, 2006

Packed Cardiff meeting kicks off united rail unions pensions campaign

Railworkers from across South Wales at a packed meeting in Cardiff on Thursday 9 March, enthusiastically heard General Secretaries from four rail unions deliver an ultimatum to rail industry employers and Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling: "Negotiate with us collectively to secure the future of the Railway Pension Scheme, or the trains will stop."
Rail_unions_pensions (18k image)

Aslef General Secretary, Keith Norman told the meeting: "Four rail union general secretaries are sat together at one table tonight, united on this issue. We are going to ensure that your future is protected."

As Keith explained, rail employers are planning to increase employee contributions to the rail industry occupational pension scheme to unsustainable levels, at the same time as reducing benefits to retired railworkers. As Keith said: "We are just not having that."

Rail unions have written jointly to Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling warning him that from July 1, 2006 employee contributions will automatically increase under rules designed to keep the final salary schemes solvent. Some railworkers are threatened with an employee contribution rate as high as 21% of their earnings at the same time rail industry employers, such as Network Rail are already seeking reductions in benefits for retired staff.

Gerry Docherty, General Secretary of the Transport Salaried Staff Association pointed out actuarial valuations used by pensions advisors are based on figures from December 2004 and include new assumptions about lifespan, which exaggerate problems facing railway final salary pensions. The value of the current assets in the scheme Gerry informed the meeting are £13.4 billion, which increased from £8 billion at the time of privatisation in 1995. To put that in context, when the Tory government privatised British Rail in the great railways rip-off the exchequer received about £2 billion from disposal of the assets.

Gerry told the meeting: "The people who privatised the railways have got the smell of your pensions in their nostrils. The only way that we will stop them is if we are prepared to take action."

The rail unions have put forward a simple workable alternative to managed decline of the Railway Pension Scheme. The unions are calling for employee contributions to be capped at 10.56% of their salary, pension benefits to be maintained at current levels, the scheme to be simplified by reducing from 103 at present to 3 the number of sections thus reducing the enormous administrative costs brought about when the scheme was fragmented at the time of rail privatisation and for the Railway Pension Scheme to be open to all employees in the rail industry.

But by not talking collectively to rail unions, employers are seeking to exploit solvency rules to compel decline and gradual closure of the final salary pension schemes. The rail unions are demanding Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling instruct rail employers to get round the negotiating table instead of hiding from their responsibilities, but to date the government has failed to take any action.

Brian Godsill, from the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions linked government inaction over the Railway Pension Scheme with recent attacks on local government workers, teachers and civil service pensions and reminded the meeting that the rail unions want to improve pension schemes, not just to stand still.

RMT General Secretary, Bob Crow remarked on the unprecedented level of unity shown by the rail unions on the issue of pensions. He warned: "There have been 125 years of differences between railworkers? unions. Unless we stand together to defend the pensions we inherited, then we won?t last another 125 years. In 25 years time people will look back and ask us what the hell we thought we were doing while the employers were allowed to walk away from their responsibilities."

Bob reminded the meeting that Aneurin Bevan in 1946-7 created a health service free at the point of use from the cradle to the grave. The rail unions today are demanding universal provision of pension rights in the rail industry, which is fair and affordable. Bob said: "We will not allow ministers, employers or anyone else to divide us in our determination to win a secure future in retirement for all railworkers. We want to get round the table and negotiate, but unless employers agree to negotiate we will call coordinated and united ballots for strike action across all four rail unions. July 1 is endgame."

Rail union leaders are holding a series of meetings around Britain as part of the united campaign to defend railway pensions: 21 March York, 28 March Glasgow, 29 March Edinburgh, 3 April Birmingham, 5 April Bristol, 10 April Perth (at STUC), 19 April Manchester and 20 April London. Further details available from rail union offices.

Plan to step down sparks talk of rail sector tie-up

The Times: March 10, 2006
By Angela Jameson, Industrial Correspondent

PHIL WHITE, the chief executive of National Express, surprised the City yesterday with plans to retire this year, possibly paving the way for a significant merger in the rail sector.

The possibility of a so-called ?merger of equals? between FirstGroup and National Express was first raised several years ago but was thought to be difficult to achieve while Mr White and his FirstGroup counterpart, Moir Lockhead, were at the helm of their companies.

It was rumoured last year that David Ross, the youthful chairman of National Express, was pressing for a transforming merger but Mr White resisted.

Yesterday Mr White, 57, who is considered one of the last of the old guard of transport executives who made small fortunes through the privatisation of the sector, said: ?I have been here ten years and every three or four years I take stock of what I am doing in my life. Now I have finally done the Alsa deal (to acquire the Spanish group), after six years, I think it might be best for everyone if I step down and do some more things at home.?

Mr White said that he hoped to continue a role in business, preferably with a start-up outside the public transport sector.

Damian Brewer, a transport analyst at JPMorgan, said: ?This change would remove the ?CEO issue? if National Express was to become part of a larger industry grouping.?

A merger of National Express and FirstGroup is thought to have the best chance of escaping a referral to the Competition Commission because the companies? bus operations do not overlap much.

Mr White said: ?I?ve always thought that if the idea stacked up for a merger, that both boards have to be strong enough to ignore the personalities.?

He added that National Express would ultimately have to be involved in any industry consolidation.

National Express has a 9 per cent share of the bus market, compared with FirstGroup?s 21 per cent, and the greater part of its operation is in the West Midlands, where FirstGroup is not represented. The pair also operate major rail franchises and have significant school bus operations in North America.

Elsewhere in the sector new chief executives are also coming in. Arriva?s new chief executive starts in April and Go-Ahead Group?s new chief began last year.

Analysts at Merrill Lynch said: ?There is a generation change at UK bus and rail, which may facilitate renewed consolidation within the industry or LBO (leveraged buyout)/takeover approaches.?

National Express also said that it was pulling out of the race for the South West Trains franchise, which is operated by Stagecoach.

Mr White?s announcement came as the group said that pre-tax profit rose to £89.3 million last year as revenues fell 6 per cent to £2.22 billion. The operating margin rose to 7 per cent, from 6.1 per cent.

See also:

National Express chief steps down amid solid rise in profits

The Independent: 10 March 2006
By Michael Harrison, Business Editor

Phil White, the long-serving chief executive of the bus and rail operator National Express, is to step down this year after running the company for almost a decade.

The surprise announcement came as the company reported a strong rise in profits, despite the buffeting of higher fuel costs, and disclosed that it has pulled out of the bidding for the South West Trains franchise, the biggest commuter railway in the country.

Mr White, who has led National Express's expansion into the US and, more recently, Europe through last year's acquisition of the Spanish coach operator Alsa, said the decision to retire was his own.

The chief executive since January 1997, and still only 56, Mr White said he had tired of living in a London hotel and commuting home to his house near Harrogate at weekends. "Ten years is a long time. I have had enough of results roadshows and corporate box-ticking. I talked things over at Christmas with my missus, Carol, and came to the conclusion it was the right time for a change. I am sorry to go but happy at the same time."

He said he had no intention of taking another executive job with a listed company but hoped to take on some non-executive roles and perhaps get involved with one or two smaller companies in Yorkshire. A search for his successor is under way. The front-runners internally are Ray O'Toole, the chief operating officer, and Adam Walker, the finance director.

Mr White said National Express had decided to concentrate on rail franchises where it is the incumbent operator rather than bid for new franchises. Its Central Trains, Silverlink and Midland Mainline franchises are due to be put out to tender next year.

Underlying pre-tax profits for last year rose 11 per cent to £135.3m. Operating profits from the group's rail division, which includes c2c, one (formerly Great Eastern) and Gatwick Express, climbed 5 per cent to £64.2m, despite a decline in revenues caused by the loss of the ScotRail franchise and the impact of July's London bombings which hit off-peak travel badly.

The group's UK bus and coach businesses held up profits with the benefit of hedging to protect against rising fuel costs the fuel bill this year will be £7m higher. The bus division, which operates 2,250 vehicles has also been helped by the recruitment of 400 Polish drivers.

Mr White has agreed to step down by the end of the year at the latest but hopes his successor is in place by the summer. He said his main task in the remaining months would be to oversee the integration into National Express of Alsa - a deal he spent six years putting together with the Cosmen family who owned the Spanish business.

National Express is also a 21 per cent shareholder in London & Continental Railways, the owner of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which has had a bid approach from a consortium led by the former government transport adviser Sir Adrian Montague.

Mr White said he was keen to wrap National Express's stake in Eurostar into any deal with a new owner to rid itself of the £9m loss it is incurring on it shareholding.

March 09, 2006

MP joins revolt over train cuts

Reading Chronicle: Mar 9 2006
COMMUTERS have won the support of Reading West MP Martin Salter in their revolt against First Great Western timetable changes which will cut train numbers and make their journeys longer.

Passengers from Great Bedwyn and Newbury to Twyford and Maidenhead are furious with the plans which will cause major disruption to their working day.

And Mr Salter, himself a regular rail user, has written to First Great Western threatening to raise the issue in the Commons unless the company backs down.

From December the company is proposing changes which will mean fewer peak-hour trains picking up at smaller stations, including Pangbourne, and Tilehurst, and those that do taking longer to reach Paddington.

The situation will be similar in the evenings with the 11.30pm last train taking an hour to reach Paddington.

Writing to First Great Western managing director Alison Forster, Mr Salter said: "I would urge you to reconsider and ensure that no cuts are made to the number of peak trains serving Tilehurst and Pangbourne and that the 6am direct service between Reading and London Paddington is protected.

"At a time when the Government is trying to get more people off the roads and on to trains, it is highly worrying that these vital services, on which my constituents rely, are being cut.

"I am fully committed to working with First Great Western to ensure that the concerns of the people are met before the final timetable is published." 

Thousands oppose rail cut plans

BBC News: 9 March 2006

There have been more than 3,000 responses to a consultation over cuts to rail services in Devon and Cornwall. First Group will liaise with the government and industry bodies.

Fewer branch line journeys are planned when First Group takes over routes currently run by Wessex Trains.

The Tarka Line will have fewer services and other South West stations will see services more than halved.

First Great Western said it would study the responses in detail over the next three months to see what changes could be made.

It intends to liaise with the government and other industry bodies.

Many of the responses include petitions signed by hundreds of people opposed to the cuts, but the company said its proposed timetable is in line with the services the government wants to run from December.

Cornwall's Looe line will have a drop in daily services from 26 to 16, and Devon's Ivybridge line from 24 to 10.

Rural rail services to be cut despite growing popularity

The Times: March 09, 2006
By Ben Webster

Passenger numbers on ill-fated branch lines have increased by 40 per cent in four years.

BRANCH lines across the West Country are to lose up to half their daily trains, despite rapid growth in passenger numbers over the past four years.

The Government, which wants to reduce the rail network?s £5 billion annual subsidy by at least £1 billion, has authorised the biggest cuts to rural services since the Beeching report of 1963 after claiming that the lines are so poorly used that they are ?in the last-chance saloon?.

But official figures obtained by The Times show that passenger numbers on the lines have increased by up to 40 per cent in the past four years, more than double the average rate of growth across the network. The figures are from Wessex Trains, the present operator, which has increased frequency at minimal extra cost since taking over in 2001. First Group, which takes over next month, has announced that services will be cut on every branch line in Devon and Cornwall.

Last week The Times disclosed that First was merely complying with the service levels set by the Department for Transport. Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, tried to blame First for making the cuts, but has now admitted that he approved service levels well below the present frequency.

On the Newquay branch in Cornwall, which will have only four trains a day from December instead of seven, passenger numbers have grown by 40 per cent since 2001. The St Ives branch will lose ten of its twenty-six daily services, despite attracting 25 per cent more passengers. The Looe Valley line, which recorded growth of 16 per cent, will have its services cut from thirteen to eight.

In Devon, the Tarka line from Exeter to Barnstaple will lose one service a day and most trains will no longer stop at several small stations. Wessex had upgraded them and installed new shelters, resulting in a 26 per cent increase in passengers.

Stuart Walker, Devon and Cornwall secretary of the Railfuture campaign group, said: ?It is absurd to be cutting services on lines which are proving increasingly popular. Ministers keep saying they want more people to use public transport, but as soon as they do services are being cut.? He said that it was deceitful of the Government to claim that the cuts were a commercial decision. ?These cuts are the result of a reduction in public support for the railways. The Government could have stipulated that the existing frequency must be maintained, but it failed to do so. It?s not just the branch lines but the main line too, where local commuter trains which have standing room only are being withdrawn.?

The 17.16 from Truro to Penzance, which carries 200 commuters, is being withdrawn, leaving a 100-minute gap in the timetable. Mr Walker said he feared that many commuters would switch back to cars.

Tim Davies, head of transport co-ordination at Devon County Council, said that the Government had failed to inform rail users about its plans to withdraw support for rural services. ?It?s been done behind closed doors because the DfT wanted to get the highest possible premium payments from First,? he said.

First has agreed to pay the DfT £1 billion over the next ten years for the right to operate the Greater Western franchise.

Railfuture had hoped that First would use its profits on the lucrative London-Bristol main line to prop up rural services in Devon and Cornwall. However, the DfT is instead allowing First to cut services on the branch lines to fund the premium payments.

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said: ?Alistair Darling seems to be turning into a cross between the Fat Controller and Dr Beeching. He?s dictating to the rail companies which services they should or should not run ? and he also seems to be set on running down and then closing many of our rural railways.?

FirstGroup rail franchise cleared for GW monopoly

BBC News: 8 March 2006

FirstGroup Plc has been cleared by the Competition Commission to buy the new Greater Western rail franchise. The inquiry looked at competition between bus and rail services.

The Commission had considered the effects on competition of FirstGroup running both bus and rail services in the Greater Western area.

Diana Guy, who led the inquiry, said: "Our analysis found only a few routes where there was scope for competition between buses and trains."

The franchise covers the South West, Reading and parts of London.

The final report confirmed the findings of a provisional report from February.

In her report, Ms Guy said FirstGroup would have only a "very small" profit incentive to raise bus fares or alter services in order to shift passengers to trains.

The Commission also concluded the purchase would not reduce the level of public transport provision in the region.

High-speed rail to use local technology

China Daily: 2006-03-09
By Xing Zhigang

Foreign technology will not be used to build the high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai, it was announced yesterday.
xin_maglev (18k image)
The magnetic leviation rail line in Shanghai

"We have already reached a consensus on the issue: the high-speed railway line will be fully based on our own technology," Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun told China Daily.

"We are confident and capable of completing the railway through the efforts of our engineers and technicians."

The minister did not specify what technology would be used but stressed "our technology is a re-innovation on the basis of assimilating advanced technologies of foreign countries."

He disclosed that the project may start as early as the end of this year after securing approval from the State Council, China's cabinet.

Liu made the remarks on the sidelines of the ongoing annual session of the National People's Congress, the top legislature.

It is the first time that a high-ranking Chinese official has specifically ruled out the use of foreign technologies in building the 1,300-kilometre railway.

The 200-billion-yuan (US$24.7 billion) project was first proposed in 1994 and originally scheduled for completion before the beginning of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing or the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

The express railway designed for a speed of up to 300 kilometres per hour is expected to shorten travel time between the two cities from 13 hours to less than 5.

But debate over the controversial technological issue has delayed the project, especially after it triggered a white-hot bidding war among Japanese, German and French companies.

Japan has been lobbying China to use its Shinkansen bullet train technology while France has been pitching its TGV high-speed transport system.

For its part, Germany has been pushing for the use of its magnetic levitation train technology or maglev which is already being used on a 30-kilometre route in Shanghai, the world's first such railway line in commercial operation.

China is a lucrative market for foreign companies since the country plans to build a 5,400-kilometre high-speed railway network with an investment of more than 1,000 billion yuan (US$124 billion) between 2006 and 2010.

Liu suggested the use of Chinese technology in the project was decided by the central government, which has unveiled plans to build China into an innovative nation in the next 15 years.

"The State Council is particularly interested in the technology issue," he said. "We have acted in line with State policy."

Analysts said China's decision is partly in response to concerns about reliance on overseas technology.

In early 2005, the Science & Technology Daily published a lengthy report questioning the Railways Ministry's strategy of relying on high-speed railway technologies imported at a high cost.

"Foreign companies will never give us up-to-date technologies," the report said, adding that the failure to build technological capability would eventually be at the cost of China's own technological innovation and the market.

Yesterday, Liu said the Beijing-Shanghai express railway project has been authorized by the central government and listed as one of the key transportation projects in the country's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10).

The feasibility study report for the project will soon be submitted to the State Council for approval, he said.

The minister said China plans to build 19,800 kilometres of railways and rebuild 23,000 kilometres by 2010 to ease mounting pressure on its rail transportation system.

One of the key projects is a planned inter-city railway system in the Yangtze River Delta linking Shanghai with almost all major cities in neighbouring Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in East China.  

March 08, 2006

Rail commuters' timetable fears

BBC News: 8 March 2006

Commuters are angry about proposed changes to a rail timetable that could see early-morning fast services into London Paddington reduced.

MPs have backed passengers from Berkshire and Oxfordshire who are concerned about possible changes to First Great Western's timetable.

Consultation on the timetable ends on Wednesday and it is due to come into effect in December.

Bosses said no firm decisions had yet been made on the new-look services.

"We recognise that feelings are running high in the regions" - Adrian Ruck, First Great Western

Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West, said he was worried that the number of peak time trains running from Pangbourne and Tilehurst would be "considerably" reduced.

In a letter to First Great Western, he said: "At a time when the government are trying to get more people off the roads and onto the trains, it is highly worrying that these vital services, on which my constituents rely, are being cut."

Commuter Maurice Taylor, 52, is concerned that fast trains from Didcot and Oxford will be reduced and replaced by an early morning stopping service.

Mr Taylor, of Woodstock, Oxfordshire, said: "Already people waiting at Slough never get a seat and have to stand in the passageways. With four trains being reduced into one it's going to be murder."

Comments welcomed

First Great Western is drawing up the new timetable as it is due to expand its services when it begins running the Greater Western franchise in April.

The company will continue to run its own high-speed and Link services and will take over Wessex Trains' routes.

Company spokesman Adrian Ruck said no firm decisions would be made for at least three months.

He said: "It is a draft timetable that we have been consulting on and we welcome these comments as part of that process.

"If people have contacted us about these issues they will be considered by our timetable experts as they go through all the suggestions and complaints.

"We recognise that feelings are running high in the regions about some of these changes."

Rail safety a `ticking time bomb'

TORONTO STAR: Mar. 7, 2006

* NDP critic calls for public inquiry
* 1,246 accidents reported last year
Canada_derailment (35k image)
A derailment near Beaverton from 2003

Canada needs a public inquiry into the "ticking time bomb" of rail safety, says Peter Julian, the federal NDP transport critic.

"The Conservatives need to move immediately on a full public inquiry into rail safety in Canada," Julian said yesterday, reacting to a Toronto Star probe that shows the number of rail accidents rising each year and government bodies either unwilling or unable to investigate accidents and prosecute the railways.

"We've got problems with rail safety, increasing accident rates, transportation of dangerous goods going through heavily populated areas and going through environmentally very sensitive areas. We don't know what could happen next. Doing nothing is not an option."

The number of accidents has risen every year since 2002, hitting 1,246 last year.

Through a federal access to information request, the Star accessed a decade's worth of Transportation Safety Board accident reports.

There were 11,147 accidents reported to the TSB between 1996 and 2005. Almost all involved freight trains.

The TSB investigated only 1.3 per cent of those accidents. Between 1999 and 2005, Transport Canada, the federal regulator of the rail industry, prosecuted the railways seven times under the Railway Safety Act, earning five convictions.

Poor maintenance, human error, an overreliance on technology and staff cuts were contributing factors for the most serious accidents.

Canada's two largest freight train companies ? CN and CP ? say they are trying to solve the problem by investing in new technologies, hiring new staff, retraining staff, educating the public and re-investing in new rail, ties and ballast.

New federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon was in meetings yesterday and did not have time for an interview, said his spokesman Robert Greenslade. But Greenslade said "it would be a little premature to talk about a public inquiry. There need to be very sound reasons for public inquiries. The point is we take safety very seriously. When we notice things are not functioning properly and there are infractions of the rules, we go after them."

CN and CP have access to TSB accident reports prior to their publication so that they can ask for changes. They must submit a safety management system to Transport Canada every year. But Transport Canada investigators can audit CN's and CP's safety system only every three years.

"We take the safety of the rail system very seriously," said Greenslade.

"We do have inspection programs and audit programs in place to review the safety of the operations of the rail companies.

"We'll continue to work with the TSB, the companies, the railway association of Canada to continually improve safety performance."

Critics believe the government agencies are too cozy with the railways.

And they believe the railways put speed ahead of safety, leading to some disasters, such as a couple last August:

* Spilling half a million litres of heating oil and tens of thousands of litres of a toxic chemical known to cause cancer at a resort near Edmonton.
* Leaking caustic soda into the Cheakamus River in B.C., killing most of the fish stock.

"All the factors are there for one colossal bad accident, which could make all of these other accidents seem minor in comparison," said Julian.

"It's been a manifest failure to have the railways do their own safety policing."

He said the Liberals ignored the issue while they were in power, but he expected this minority Parliament to face it.

"I don't think self-policing on safety works because the dynamic in the railway seems to be: `Hey, we're creating record levels of profits, that's all that counts.'"

Unions fight rail crew plan

Kansas City Star: Mar. 07, 2006

Labor negotiations in the railroad industry are always drawn out, but one divisive issue could make the current round of talks particularly arduous.

The major railroads, led by BNSF Railway Co., are seeking agreements with their unions to run some trains with one employee on board, which would eliminate thousands of jobs and potentially reduce annual industry costs by more than $1 billion.

The unions oppose the technology known as positive train control, which railroads say can automatically apply a train's brakes to stop or slow down if an engineer does not see warning signals. The system eliminates the need for a conductor, supporters of the technology say.

BNSF has been experimenting with the technology on about 135 miles of track in Illinois.

But attempts to negotiate reduced train-staffing requirements systemwide has brought the objections of all rail unions. BNSF recently sought to expand its pilot program, but the unions argued against the proposal at a hearing before the Federal Railroad Administration.

"The waiver in question explicitly seeks removal of the second crew member, the important second set of eyes and ears, from the cab of the locomotive," said Rick Inclima, director of the Teamsters rail division's Brotherhood of Maintenance Ways Employees.

The unions have argued that they support the development of the new technology, but railroads want to adopt them as an excuse for reducing their work forces. No studies have been conducted on the effect that one-person crews would have on public safety, the unions argued.

The issue has even united the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the United Transportation Union. These two labor groups, who have fought often through the years, have agreed to set aside their differences for now to fight the one-person proposal.

"We've agreed not to raid each other?s memberships," said Frank Wilner, a UTU spokesman.

Wilner said the UTU is in court with the BNSF over the one-person crews in Illinois, arguing that the issue cannot be settled in the current round of national bargaining. Wilner said the union has not heard from the representative of the carriers about further negotiating sessions on other matters.

The National Carriers? Conference Committee, or NCCC, is the bargaining representative for 32 railroads.

The BLE is negotiating with the carriers' group as part of the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition, a group of seven unions. The next scheduled negotiation session for the railroads and the coalition is April 11.

The NCCC recently released a statement saying the railroads urged the UTU and BLE leaders to negotiate new reduced staffing requirements last year but they refused.

"As always, our goal remains to reach voluntary agreements that will revise work rules and staffing requirements while providing job security for current employees," the NCCC said in a statement last month. "Any suggestion that the railroads would do anything to jeopardize the safety of their operations in the future is blatantly false."

The UTU represents about 46,000 members affected by the current bargaining sessions, and the BLE about 22,000 members covered by the current talks.

Rejoining AFL-CIO

Several big unions broke away from the AFL-CIO last year, but one union recently rejoined the group.

The United Transportation Union reaffiliated with the larger labor federation Feb. 27.

Paul C. Thompson, president of the UTU International, was elected vice president of the AFL-CIO?s executive council.

Thompson was the UTU?s International vice president based in Shawnee before becoming president earlier this decade.

March 07, 2006

Berlin's New Rail "Palace" Nears Completion

Deutsche Welle: 06.03.2006
As Berlin continues to wrangle with monuments of its inglorious past, one last big post-unification project is almost finished: Europe's largest train station.
Berlin_station1 (8k image)
By May, these halls will become Europe's busiest train station

In the heart of former East Berlin, work has begun to tear down a relic of GDR times, the concrete monstrosity known as the Palace of the Republic. Not far away, another testament to the inglorious history and architecture of communist times is slated for demolition, the faded Hotel Unter den Linden. 
But a few kilometers away, construction workers are racing to finish the city's glamorous new central train station, also known as Lehrter Bahnhof. It's the last of the big projects after German reunification in 1990, which included the reconstruction of Potsdamer Platz and the Reichstag.
This 10-year, 700 million-euro ($842 million) construction project, which is due to open in May, just before the soccer World Cup, will have a three-story shopping mall and serve as Europe's biggest rail hub, essentially putting Berlin's two older train stations out of business.

berlin_station2 (24k image)
Even while still under construction, the massive building has already become one of the city's new landmarks
City officials hope that the new station will be the end of the post-reunification phase and start a new chapter for a city, which has seen lower growth in population than expected and suffered through tough economic times.
"We had big dreams for the city after the Berlin Wall fell and many of those were pulled down by reality," said Michael Baufeld, a spokesman for the station project. "But we hope that with good infrastructure and attractions such as the new station, we will draw more investors and visitors."
Uniting the city 

The station will feature twin 12-story glass towers for offices and 46-meter arches rising gracefully. Filigreed-glass roofs will cross a glass-latticed hall, more than 300 meters (328 yards) long, spanning the east-west tracks and adding sparkle to an empty landscape. The ultra-modern lines mixed with traditional proportions are typical for Berlin's post-Wall architecture, in which past meets future, the station's architects said.
"The design is a cross, an intersection of east and west, past and future," said J?Hillmar, a partner at the firm GMP (von Gerkan, Marg und Partner), who is responsible for the project. "In Berlin, architects often design incorporating elements of the past such as proportions and structure, while the building material and design go in a new direction."
Like Berlin itself.
The new station, taking up 180,000 square meters (1.9 million square feet), will be Europe's largest hub, serving 300,000 passengers with almost 1,300 long-distance, regional and local trains passing through daily, officials say. It will centralize train travel in the city for the first time -- west-bound passengers currently use Zoo station; east-bound, Lichtenberg or Ostbahnhof.

berlin_station3 (27k image)
A model of the new station, which will have trains arriving and departing from several levels
The station will also feature a three-level, 15,000 square meter shopping center that will stay open late nights and on weekends, including Sunday.
And officials hope it will draw the crowds and revitalize the area.
"For years, that area was a desert," Baufeld said. "But we have had 10,000 visitors annually to the site since we started building. It is a good start to begin to develop this whole area."
Rising from the ashes

berlin_station4 (9k image)
The old station opened just in time for the first unification of Germany

Lehrter Bahnof originally opened in 1871 and was named after the first stop on the line leading to Hanover, Lehrte. It was called a "palace" because of its classical and renaissance architecture and remained the key departure station in Berlin for decades. It was also a main economic engine for the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The station was severely damaged by bombing during World War II. While it continued to serve passengers, its importance in the divided city declined. In 1952, the GDR, responsible for Berlin railways, decided to stop service to the station and demolition begun a few years later. Only the local trains serving the city's suburbs remained, the last western stop before the border with East Germany -- and the once-thriving area fell into decay and desolation in the no-man's land.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and Berlin's reemergence as Germany's capital, officials decided that the city needed to better integrate and centralize their transportation networks -- and the old Lehrter Bahnhof, which lies close to the government district, Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, was deemed the perfect place.
Deflecting critics
As German officials hope that the World Cup games bring in tremendous economic benefits and shows a new German face to the world, so too do they hope that the new station provides an economic impetus and adds to Berlin's makeover.

berlin_station5 (27k image)
Until now, trains have just passed through the new station

The station will add capacity to departure options and facilitate travel, city officials say. It will provide jobs and revive a key area. It will add to the tourist attractions.
But critics say the station was a waste of money and time as bankrupt Berlin, with a double-digit unemployment rate, doesn't need a flashy new station or more shops. They also complain that construction time was triple that initially projected and that the project cost more than twice what was originally expected.
Many also worry about the impact on the beloved Zoo station in the heart of the former West Berlin.
But supporters of the new station say it is time to move on.
"Berlin's new train station, with its central location, its modern architecture and its extensive transportation opportunities will help distinguish Berlin even more," said Ingeborg Junge-Reyer, a Berlin official responsible for development. "And it will serve as an invitation to our ever-changing and interesting city."

Jabeen Bhatti

Strikes could close rail network

BBC News: 6 March 2006

The entire rail network could be shut down by strike action later in the year in a row over pensions.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union, Aslef and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association fear higher pension contributions for thousands of workers.

They claim many of the over 100 schemes for rail workers are in deficit. They want a 10.5% staff contributions cap.

Network Rail, which has the biggest scheme in the industry, said it was in good order.

It said talks would continue with the industry about future funding arrangements.

The dispute involves all the train operating companies and engineering firms which maintain the railways.

The unions, including the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, launched a campaign on Monday aimed at protecting pensions.

It will involve nine regional rallies in Cardiff, York, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Bristol, Perth, Manchester and London.

'Deficit of millions'

The unions say that since privatisation a decade ago the number of pension schemes has grown from one to 101.

But there is a deficit of up to £600m and some workers could see their contributions double without an agreement with employers, the unions say.

"Unless a way forward is found soon, workers could be faced with an increase in contributions which will amount to a very significant cut to their take-home pay." - Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said some workers would face contributions of 21% of their salary when legal changes to schemes were introduced in July.

He said the clock was ticking towards industrial action this summer, according to BBC labour affairs correspondent Stephen Cape.

A stoppage could be the biggest in the industry since the 1926 General Strike.

The unions say they want talks with the government over capping contributions, combining the large number of schemes into just three, and keeping schemes open to all workers.

Ballot threat

"If employers and the government continue to respond in a negative way there will be no alternative but to resort to industrial action," said the general secretary of the TSSA, Gerry Doherty.

"If this is not resolved, we could see a ballot for strike action, coordinated by all unions in the industry."

The last national rail strikes brought the network to a standstill in 1994 when signal workers staged a series of walk-outs.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber has written to Transport Secretary Alistair Darling to request urgent talks to resolve the issue.

"Unless a way forward is found soon workers could be faced with an increase in contributions which will amount to a very significant cut to their take-home pay," he said.

Strike threat over rail pension deficit

Independent Online: 07 March 2006
By Barrie Clement, Labour Editor

Ministers were urged yesterday to intervene over an estimated £600m rail pensions deficit or face the first all-out stoppage on the network since the General Strike in 1926.

Leaders of the biggest unions in the industry representing 100,000 workers united to demand a meeting with Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, over the issue after the Association of Train Operating Companies and other rail bodies refused to negotiate with them.

Employees' representatives said they were keen to avoid industrial action which could close the network, but also warned the Government they would not "stand aside'' when their members faced "abject poverty'' in retirement.

The rail unions RMT, Aslef and TSSA together with the engineering union Amicus put forward four key demands yesterday including the reorganisation of about 100 funds into three for the whole industry.

Workers' leaders want one scheme for train operators, one for infrastructure and rail engineering companies and another for other employees, which would cover more than 345,000 staff and pensioners.
They also insist that staff contributions should be no greater than 10.56 per cent, that benefits should be kept at the current level and that the scheme should be open to new employees.

Mr Darling has been keen to avoid establishing any industry-wide structures in case it gave rail unions more leverage. The argument has been that the more fragmented the business, the less power unions can exercise.

Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT, warned a strike ballot could begin in late April or early May if Mr Darling failed to "get a grip'' on the situation.

RMT to unveil Charter for Women on International Women's Day

RMT: March 6 2006

BRITAIN'S fastest-growing union is to launch its Charter for Women on International Women's Day - March 8.
RMT_women (409k image)
RMT National Women's Conference 2006

Copies of the RMT Women's Charter will be available at the launch 11:00, Wednesday, March 8 at RMT headquarters, 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD

The RMT Women's Charter throws down the gauntlet to transport employers - from ending low pay and inequality at work, to dealing with sexual harassment, providing proper support during pregnancy and menopause, and winning decent childcare and family-friendly conditions.

"This isn't just a wish-list - the RMT Women's Charter sets out what we expect employers to deliver," says RMT Women's Advisory Committee chair and seafarer Pauline Howe.

"For too long we have had to deal with employers who would rather pay for a first-class lounge than a women's toilet. The RMT Women's Charter sends the clear signal that those days are over," says RMT general secretary Bob Crow.

The RMT Women's Charter will be launched by Pauline Howe, chair of the RMT Women's Advisory Committee, RMT general secretary Bob Crow and members of the RMT Women's Advisory Committee, who will also be available for interview.

Note to editors: The RMT Women's Charter covers:

* Equality at work - equal pay, equal terms and conditions
* End low pay
* Increase staffing levels - end lone working
* Safe transport to and from work
* End sexual harassment
* Access to adequate sanitary and toilet facilities
* Comfortable and appropriate uniform
* Menopause support
* Health, safety and support during pregnancy
* Better maternity, paternity, parental and carers' pay and leave
* The right to flexible, part-time and family-friendly working hours

March 06, 2006

Key test for Rail Regulator as firms pitch for new services

The Times: March 06, 2006
By Angela Jameson, Industrial Correspondent

RIVAL train companies will fight it out in front of the Rail Regulator today in what will be the first real test of the regulator's independence since the Department for Transport took back control of the railways.

Grand Central Trains wants to run trains from London to Sunderland and Bradford, but GNER, the present East Coast Main Line operator, is arguing that it should be allowed to run extra services to Leeds instead.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said in January that it was "minded to" approve Grand Central's plans, but said it would mean that GNER's application to run more Leeds services and Grand Central's proposed Bradford services could not be put in place before December next year.

Pressure from the Government and GNER has prompted the regulator to allow a rare oral hearing on the applications. A final decision will be announced at the end of this month. However, the adjudication is seen as a key test of whether private operators without a franchise should be allowed on to busy railways.

Mike Mitchell, the director-general of rail at the Department for Transport, has attacked the regulator's draft ruling over concerns that GNER may be unable to pay its promised £1.3 billion to the Treasury.

The department is also concerned that the ORR's decision will worry existing franchise-holders by making the future of their businesses less certain. "As a result, we can expect to see more caution exercised by bidders, which may be reflected in lower bids, and a potential reduction in premium or an increase in subsidy required," the department said in its response to the decision in January.

Ian Yeowart, the chief executive of Grand Central, said: "The regulator has proven himself on more than one occasion that he is properly independent."

Grand Central plans to run three trains each way daily on the East Coast Main Line between Sunderland and London, calling at Hartlepool and Eaglescliffe, on the edge of Middlesbrough, as well as Thirsk and Northallerton. None of these sites has a direct link to London and the proposal has been welcomed.

Mr Yeowart said that he was confident that his company had proven the economic case for the new services. "We have done our homework and our view is that he has already said "yes"," he said.

Chris Bolt, the Rail Regulator, has a duty to "promote the development of the network to the greatest extent economically practicable", which train operators think means opening new routes. However, he is also obliged to make sure that new operators do not cannibalise subsidised services.

Support for New St website urged

BBC News: 3 March 2006

Campaigning has started to back a £500m redevelopment of Birmingham New Street railway station, with the public urged to "click" their support on a website. Revamp supporters are asked to visit the Renew Street website
Brum_new_street (10k image)

How the station currently looks to passengers

An open letter from civic leaders backs the Birmingham Gateway campaign launched a fortnight ago.

They want people and businesses to show there is wide support for the plans via the Renew Street website.

Backers say the glass-roofed scheme is the best solution for the station, the city and for the region.

Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby said: "Birmingham Gateway will give not only us, but everyone who visits our great city, a world class travelling experience."

Network Rail route director Peter Strachan said: "By signing up to our campaign, the people and businesses of Birmingham can make a difference.

"We need the support of everyone if we are to realise our vision of a world class station capable of accommodating the growth of the railway for generations to come."

The West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority said redeveloping New Street Station was critical for passengers and business and also essential to the future of the West Midlands.

Birmingham Chamber of Commerce policy director Jerry Blackett said: "We need to send a very loud message to London that this is a top priority for the future of our economy."

The revamp scheme is designed to improve passenger access and deal with congestion, acting as a catalyst for regeneration and economic development in the region. But it will not allow for more trains to serve the station.

Some £350m would come from the public sector with the rest raised from the commercial development of the south side of the station, with work running from 2008 to 2012.

Deutsche Bahn bidding for Estonian national rail company

AFX News Limited: 03.05.2006

FRANKFURT - Deutsche Bahn AG is one of three companies bidding for the Eesti Raudtee Estonian national rail company, WirtschaftsWoche reported in an advance copy of an article to appear in this week's edition.

A spokesman for the German state rail company declined to comment on the report.

'As a general rule we do not comment on speculation,' the spokesman said.

A group of Russian investors and a group of Estonian investors are also bidding for the company, the magazine wrote.

The Estonian government holds one third of Eesti Raudtee, while Pittsburg, USA-based RDC own the rest.

WirtschaftsWoche wrote that RDC wants between 150-170 million euros for its stake.

March 05, 2006

RMT National Women's Advisory Committee - 2005 report

A report of the work of the RMT National Women's Advisory Committee in 2005, submitted to the RMT National Women's Conference, Gloucester 2006

The Committee has met three times in the last year: May and September 2005 and January 2006. Each meeting was preceded by a Training Session. One result of the discussion and planning held at these meetings is the RMT Women?s Charter, which is a summary of the legal framework of rights for working women, and a statement of our aims for women workers where the RMT is organized. The 2006 Conference sees the launch of the Charter. We hope that it will be taken up and implemented with enthusiasm, not just by women members, but by men too, particularly elected representatives, in line with the principles of justice and equality around which our union is organized.

The May meeting focused on recruitment, with support from our Recruitment & Organising Unit, who supplied us with plentiful resources and materials to do the job. Women non-members often respond more readily to recruitment approaches from other women, and it helps to soften the image of a ?male? industry and union. This is one reason for continuing to campaign for more women representatives, Health & Safety representatives, full-time officers and Council of Executives members.

We also talked of the need for stronger Regional and Branch organization of women members. To date, there is one Regional Advisory Committee, and no Branch Advisory Committees. It may be there is still opposition in some areas to the idea of self-organisation. If so, we need to try to understand why.

We received a report from Janine Booth, one of the RMT?s 2005 delegates to the BTUC Women?s Conference. Our motion on the limitations of flexible working was carried unanimously. The report is very comprehensive, and deserves to be read widely for its overview of the TUC and women?s issues (copy available from Pat Wilkinson, p.wilkinson@rmt.org.uk) We asked that this report be tabled to the Council of Executives. This does not seem to have happened yet.

Concern was raised that the women?s political school, agreed two years ago, has still not taken place. There was also criticism at the lack of detail in the Equal Rights Sub-Committee report (which should detail action taken on our Conference decisions). A request that NWAC members attend a meeting of the ERSC, to discuss this was turned down, and a letter was sent instead. It?s important that we have confidence that the decisions we take are going to be acted on ? otherwise the whole exercise in women?s organization becomes tokenistic.

We re-affirmed our opposition to any change in the laws relating to abortion, and asked the TUC to organise a campaign in defence of abortion rights. We also welcomed the new RMT Education Centre and asked that provision of a cr?e be a high priority.

The Equal Rights Sub-Committee?s report to the September meeting suggested that our complaints had been taken on board! It was comprehensive and was circulated in advance. If delegates to any of the union?s body are to do a decent job, it is essential that documents are received in advance, so that the proper preparation can be carried out.

The training session looked at the RMT Women?s Charter. This presented a huge task, and delegates shared out the work of compiling different sections, with Janine Booth taking overall responsibility for compiling the final draft.

A motion was sent to the BTUC 2006 Women?s Conference, calling for an annual demonstration on International Women?s Day to be organized by the TUC. The first, in 2007, to focus on: repeal of the anti-union laws; defence of women?s pensions; ending low pay and closing the gender pay gap; defence and extension of abortion rights; better child-care and family-friendly working; solidarity with women workers against sweat shops

The January meeting was devoted to the finalizing the draft Charter, ready for printing and launching at the Women?s Conference, and to the arrangement of Conference: sorting out the Agenda and arranging the workshops.

The Women?s Charter is proof that women are organizing with confidence in the RMT, backed by a supportive leadership. We must also record our thanks for the hard work of Pat Wilkinson, RMT Equalities Officer, on our behalf.

This is only a stage in our development, and we need to go further. The National Women?s Advisory Committee is not intended as a stopping point for a small group of activists. It is now time to concentrate on organizing and building a layer of activists at Regional and Branch level. We need to encourage more women get involved in their Branch, to stand for election as representatives or Branch officials, and to offer themselves as candidates for official positions at every level of the union.

So, if you?re reading this, and you don?t attend your Branch, or you are aware of vacancies that you could fill ? please lend a hand!


Schedules Return to Normal as Rail Strike Ends

Chosun.com: Mar.5, 2006

It was almost business as usual in the nation's rail and subway services after the union of Korea Railroad on Saturday ended a strike that paralyzed parts of the nation's transport system for days.

Subways in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi Province as well as the high-speed KTX train resumed normal service on Sunday. Other rail services, the Saemaeul and Mugunghwa express trains and freight services will resume fully on Monday. KORAIL suspended 2,244 unionists from their jobs including 387 the firm says were the organizers.

A KORAIL official said as many as 12,000 unionists who refused to return to work after the firm's ultimatum face a reprimand but added the standard and extent of disciplinary action against them are under discussion. KORAIL has a five-level disciplinary system where suspension and dismissal are the two most severe.

Yet the aftermath of the strike may be more serious than expected. Though 2,000 KORAIL unionists congregated in Seoul's Yongsan Station to announce an end to the all-out strike, they said they will continue their struggle after returning to work. The suspended 2,244 account for 8.8 percent of the 25,510 unionists. If they do not return to work, it would hobble the nation's railway services. The firm is setting up a disciplinary committee to consider ways of revoking some of the suspensions.

"The strike dealt a heavy blow to the national economy, so management and union both stand to lose from it," said KORAIL president Lee Chul. "We should use this incident to seek new labor-management relations that respect law and common sense."

The prosecution and police, meanwhile, will continued to hunt 26 union leaders for whom arrest warrants were issued despite the end of the walkout. The strike was technically illegal since it went ahead after the National Labor Relations Commission decided to invoke its emergency arbitration right.

Report of RMT National Women's Conference 2006

RMT National Women's Conference was held this year in Gloucester, on 24th and 25th February,and saw the launch of the RMT Women's Charter.

The Conference was chaired by Pauline Howe (Dover Shipping) and attended by General Secretary, Bob Crow, National President Tony Donaghy and Council of Executives member Jack Davies.

Main speakers were Houzan Mahmoud from the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, and Vicky Boroughs from the National Association of Probation Officers

Bob Crow said the Women's Charter is aimed at "putting companies on notice that this is what we want them to implement." He spoke about the looming crisis in pensions and said we are facing what might be the biggest dispute in 70 years. The three rail unions have united to launch a National Campaign to defend pensions, to be launched on March 9th.

Tony Donaghy pointed out that the Women's Charter benefits men as well: "every gain for women in the workplace, is a gain for men". He also reminded Conference that increases in pension contributions and decreases in benefits will have a disproportionate effect on women, whose earnings, on average, are substantially less than men's.

Vicky Boroughs, full-time officer for the National Association of Probation Officers spoke about their campaign to prevent privatisation of the probation service, which will have a disastrous effect on jobs and the service itself. Conference was unanimous in its support.

Houzan Mahmoud spoke about the rise of fundamentalism in Iraq since the war and occupation. Her organisation, Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq, advocates women's rights, and she has received death threats for her belief in secularism and feminism. They have helped to establish the Iraqi Freedom Congress which advocates an end to the occupation and the establishment of a progressive, secular state, not one run by the USA, nor by Islamic fundamentalists. Conference donated £100 to her organisation.

A workshop on Young Women in the RMT concluded that we need to update our image, make meetings less boring and provide more political education. Sponsorship of youth events - a music festival would be great - and TV advertising would reach a wider audience. Trades unions have problems communicating with young people, not just young women.

With 73,000 members, however, the RMT is the fastest-growing union in Britain, so we must be getting something right!

Conference sent two motions to the Annual General Meeting of the RMT: one asking for the RMT to elect Regional Women's Organisers, to achieve more effective grass-roots participation of women, and one calling for "equality audits" of all rail pension schemes, as well as a campaign against reductions in benefits and increases in contributions.

Women in the RMT are getting stronger and more confident. Every woman member can help in this process by getting involved in her branch, and standing for election as a representative, delegate or Council of Executive member. Come to the Women's Conference next year, and find out what it's all about!


International Women's Day in Bristol

All women are invited to celebrate International Women's Day on Saturday 11th March 2006, at the Council House, College Green, Bristol, from 10.00-16.00. Free admission, and free creche (please book in advance).

A day of creative activities for and by women: art, crafts, dance, drama, music, poetry, therapies and much, much more.

All women are invited to join together on this international day to celebrate the contribution of women as workers, mothers, artists, friends, thinkers, lovers, politicians - while the political struggle for recognition of that contribution continues throughout the world.

The Council House in Bristol will be open-house to women on 11th March. The venue is accessible, and BSL Interpreters are available.

For further information, and to book a creche place, contact:
Alice Brisbane alice_brisbane@bristol-city.gov.uk. Tel. 0117 922 3786

National Women's Advisory Committee

The RMT National Women's Advisory Committee meets quarterly. 2006 dates are: 22nd March, 21st June, 20th September, 13th December

The RMT National Women's Advisory Committee is made up of women delegates elected from each Region of the RMT, who meet to discuss issues relating to women members, and to advise the RMT on policy matters relating to women.

They are responsible for producing the recently-published RMT Women's Charter, which sets out the legal framework of women's rights s at work, and the RMT's aims for women members.

Advisory Committee meetings are open to all members as observers - contact your Branch Secretary for details.

Meetings are held at Unity House, starting at 14.00, and are usually preceded by a training session at 11.00.

Delegates from the South Wales & West Region are Glen Burrows (Bristol Rail); Mandy Evans (Swansea No.1) and Caroline Parry ( Gloucester)

'Looking after our own' - new name for biggest railway charity

Rail News: 05 Mar 2006

THE rail industrys oldest, longest-serving charity has been re-launched with a new name, a fundraising appeal and a big prize draw.

The Railway Benefit Fund, formerly the Railway Benevolent Institution, announced details of its new image and its new slogan Looking after our own at the HSBC Rail Business Awards in London on 28 February.

Before the award ceremony got under way, those attending were invited to make donations to the charitys prize draw. Prizes included Virgin Atlantic London-New York tickets, GNER First Class tickets with overnight accommodation, tickets on the Orient Express or Northern Belle trains, days out on the recently launched FM Rail Blue Pullman train, and Eurostar tickets.

Last year the organisation, which is funded by railway people for railway people, offered advice, practical and financial support to more than 870 active and retired employees and their dependants.

The charity, which last year awarded grants totalling 395,000, is now looking to raise more support from people working in the rail industry and their employers.

Rail companies which have already shown support for the charity include Network Rail, GNER, National Express and Carillion.

More information about The Railway Benefit Fund, its fundraising appeal and its prize draw can be found on the charitys new website on www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk

Intercity 125s to be replaced by greener machines

The Sunday Times: March 05, 2006
Dipesh Gadher, Transport Correspondent

THE transport secretary, Alistair Darling, will announce in mid-March that the Intercity 125, workhorse of Britain?s long-distance rail network, is to be scrapped after 30 years? service.

The diesel-powered trains are to be replaced by a £1 billion "greener" fleet - possibly including double-decker carriages - to cope with passenger growth.

The replacement trains, which could come into service in time for the London Olympics in 2012, will have a more upmarket feel, with scope for airline-style seat-back entertainment systems and broadband internet access.

Darling has taken charge of ordering the trains because he is not confident the private operating companies can handle the process efficiently.

The Intercity 125 ? named after the train?s top speed ? was introduced between 1976 and 1982 and has survived until now through a series of ad-hoc refurbishments.

The ageing fleet, made up of 68 trains, operates on the Greater Western franchise, serving routes from London Paddington to south Wales and the West Country; on the Midland Mainline route between St Pancras and South Yorkshire; and on the east coast main line between London King?s Cross and Scotland.

The first 125 service left Paddington at 8.05am on October 4, 1976. It arrived in Bristol three minutes early.

A return ticket cost £5 ? a quarter the cost of the cheapest available fare today.

In its early days, the train was nicknamed ?the Screamer? because of the high-pitched noise given out by the Napier turbocharger on its 2250bhp Paxman Valenta engines, originally designed for marine use. Until the introduction of the 125, the fastest diesel train could reach 105mph.

However, the average train speed on the network at the time was actually 60mph.

The 125 sounded the death knell for sleeper trains between London and Cardiff, and shaved an hour off journey times between the capital and Edinburgh.

Last month the Department for Transport slipped out a largely unnoticed specification for the new ?High Speed Train 2? contract in the Official Journal of the European Union. This is usually a precursor to formal tendering.

Darling is expected to announce further details of a replacement fleet at a national rail conference in London on March 15.

?The Intercity train has done a great job over the last 30 years and continues to serve passengers well,? he said last night

China to begin work on Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev rail line this year

AFX News Limited: 03.05.2006

BEIJING - China will begin work on a high-speed magnetic levitation (magnev) train line between Shanghai and the eastern city of Hangzhou this year, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing a member of China's parliament.

It quoted a member of the Shanghai delegation to the National People's Congress'(NPC) annual session as saying that the line, which will entail an investment of 35 bln yuan, is expected to be put into operation before the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

The new line is designed to alleviate traffic pressure between Shanghai and Hangzhou during the World Expo.

German technology will be used partly in the new line, while the main technology will come from Chinese engineers and the equipment will be mainly made in China.

Chinese and German organisations are in negotiations on technology transfer, the report said.

The new maglev line, allowing the train to run at speed of as high as 430 km per hour, will cover the 170 kilometres between the two cities in about half an hour.

According to the report, Shanghai is also considering the possibility of building a low-speed maglev railway which will operate at a speed of around 100 km per hour.

Japan built such a low-speed maglev railway to solve transport issues during a World Expo in that country.

March 04, 2006

1,857 Rail Strikers Fired; 195 Arrested

Donga.com: MARCH 04, 2006

About 195 Korea Railroad Corporation (KORAIL) workers who stayed off the job were arrested by police yesterday.

Many other railroad workers, facing threats of stern punishment by KORAIL, returned to work, making this weekend a likely turning point in the KORAIL labor strike.

KORAIL fired 1,857 railroad workers who didn?t return to their jobs yesterday, raising the number of dismissed workers to 2,469.

The police also brought 32 union leaders from Paju, Gyeonggi province in for questioning, and searched the union office in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. Police are currently looking for 133 other union members and suspected strike leaders named by KORAIL.

The proportion of workers who returned to their jobs on March 1, the first day of the strike, was 9.6 percent. As of 4:00 p.m. on March 3, 4,338 workers, or 34.58 percent, had returned to work.

KORAIL expects that KTX high-speed rail service will soon be restored to 60 percent of its normal operating capacity.

But as of yesterday, the third day of the strike, the nation?s transportation system and commuters were still in chaos, and KORAIL has suffered enormous losses.

KORAIL has lost an estimated 10 billion won because of the strike; 5.97 billion won from passenger train losses, 1.9 billon won from freight train losses, and 2.27 billion won from subway losses.

March 03, 2006

Fishguard Rail Consultation

PembrokeshireTV: 03 March 2006  

THERE will be more consultation before any changes take place to trains running out of Fishguard Harbour.
158xxx-train (15k image)
There will be additional local consultation over the future of Fishguard Harbour

A Rail Addendum Study branded the Fishguard Harbour sevice as "untenable" and "not fulfilling any real purpose". Details of the study were released by Pembrokeshire County Council earlier this week.

The study, commissioned by the South West Wales Integrated Transport Consortium (SWWITCH), said:

"The issue of services to Fishguard needs to be subject to further debate.'

It went on to say that the need for further discussion means that local consultation will take place.

"The reference to ?further debate? will enable additional local consultation on this and other issues contained in the report."

The results of the study, carried out by WS Atkins and consulting nearly 49 industry stakeholders, have been accepted by the consortium?s Steering Group and its member authorities of Pembrokeshire, Swansea, Carmarthenshire, and Neath Port Talbot.

Pembrokeshire County Council is represented on the consortium by Ian Westley, Director of Transportation and Environment, and Councillor Brian Hall, Cabinet Member for Transportation and Environment.

The study anticipates that the focus for rail development will be on services along the Haverfordwest - Carmarthen - Swansea - Neath Port Talbot - corridor, as demographic forecasts show that rail will remain competitive along this route. Connections to main stations from outlying areas would then be enhanced.

"A common theme to be applied to any strategy is the need for realism and pragmatism," said the report.

"It follows that future development of the regional railway system needs to be based firmly on a critical assessment of the demand, costs and community benefits of improvement schemes including a business case and value for money.

"The desired outcome is efficient public transport via whatever means."

Police Begin Rounding Up Striking Rail Workers

The Korea Times: 03-03-2006
By Lee Hyo-sik, Staff Reporter

* 2,200 Rail Workers Face Dismissal
* All Subway Lines, KTX to Be Normalized Saturday

The state-run train operator has stripped more than 2,200 striking rail workers of their posts since the union leadership continued a walkout for the third straight day Friday, disrupting the country's train services.

"We've decided to take stern disciplinary action against the strikers for taking part in the illegal walkout, to end the collective action,'' Lee Chul, president of Korea Railroad (Korail), said in a press conference.

He also said that there would be no more official negotiations until the unionists report back to duty, adding management would strictly deal with the strike in accordance with the law as they are holding the public "hostage'' to press for their demands.

Korail said the number of workers relieved of their posts was estimated at 2,244 - 1,857 on Friday and 387 on Thursday.

Police have also begun cracking down on the work stoppages, detaining 231 unionists on charges of illegally staging a sit-in protest in six union chapters across the country.

Police requested arrest warrants for 15 union representatives for playing a leading role in the strike. They had already obtained arrest warrants for 11 union leaders for masterminding the walkout.

Police also raided the union headquarters office in Yongsan, central Seoul, confiscating boxes of documents and computer files, while setting up a special arrest unit to apprehend 11 rail union leaders on charges of illegally organizing the collective action.

They are also set to detain some 250 female attendants of the Korea Train Express (KTX), the nation's bullet train, who have been protesting their unstable job security since last Saturday.

More striking workers are likely to be taken into police custody as the government renewed its warning against the strikers that it would mobilize all possible means to end the walkout, indicating a full-scale police crackdown is imminent.

In protest against the crackdown, the union requested that the National Commission for Human Rights investigate cases of police infringement on unionists' rights.

On Thursday, thousands of striking rail workers, who had been rallying at a train base in eastern Seoul, began to disperse, following threats of a police crackdown. They split into groups of 10 to stage sit-ins at their respective chapters to more effectively cope with the crackdown.

Korail said 26.9 percent or 3,456 of the striking workers returned to work, up from 19.3 percent or 2,476 the previous day.

It also said all the unionists at subway lines in Seoul and nearby regions in Kyonggido had gone back to work.

The government asked the unionists to return to work or face severe legal punishment, following an emergency meeting of labor-related ministers at the prime minister's office.

"We will do everything we can to minimize public inconvenience and the negative impact on the economy caused by the rail workers strike,'' said Kim Chang-ho, head of the Government Information Agency.

He said that the government would invoke the most severe legal punishment possible against unionists who continue to disrupt the train services.

But union leadership refused to call off the strike, denouncing tough actions taken by government and management against the striking workers.

"We are willing to hold negotiations with management to resolve the differences and end the walkout peacefully if management takes a friendly attitude toward the workers,'' the union said Friday in a news conference.

The union also asked government to create an environment in which both sides could resolve their differences on thorny issues.

It stressed that workers would continue the strike indefinitely unless the government withdraws its harsh stance and management reinstates reprimanded union workers.

However, the rail workers strike is losing momentum as a result of the decision of its parent labor umbrella group, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) to suspend its general strike, dealing a serious blow to the striking rail workers.

The KCTU ended the strike on Friday as the National Assembly chose to delay deliberations on a non-regular workers bill to an extra session in April.

But it will resume the strike again if the Assembly tries to pass the bill through the plenary session.

In addition, the collective action is weakening as more striking workers return to work in the face of the police crackdown and management's tough stance, brightening prospects for an early return to normal railway operations.

Commuters in Seoul and nearby areas continued to experience difficulties going to and from work due to the reduced subway operations.

Some commuters took buses or taxis rather than ride crowded subway trains running at two to three times longer intervals than usual.

Operations on subway lines 1, 3 and 4 in Seoul and nearby areas were cut by some 60 percent due to the stoppage. Korail operates these lines in association with Seoul Metro Subway, which averted a strike by its workers early Wednesday morning.

The strike also disrupted passenger and freight services across the country, forcing people to find alternative transport and causing financial losses to companies reliant on rail transport.

The KTX operated at about 45 percent of daily capacity, with regular passenger train services falling to 19.3 percent, forcing people to use alternative transports, including express buses and airplanes.

Companies also had trouble shipping their products across the country, with freight train operations falling to 16.1 percent, resulting in a great deal of economic loss.

Many shipping, cement and oil firms were busy finding alternative transportation means, such as trucks and ships, as approximately half of the container-carrying trains from Pusan to Seoul were canceled due to the strike.

Overall, Korail operated about 44 percent of its passenger and freight services on the third day of the strike.

Virgin XC should negotiate or face escalation of dispute

RMT: March 3 2006

VIRGIN CROSS Country should negotiate a settlement to the long-running dispute over guards' Sunday pay rates or face the prospect of an escalation of industrial action, Britain's biggest rail union said today.

As more than 300 guards prepare to strike for the tenth successive Sunday, RMT once more urged Virgin to accept the union's offer of unconditional talks at conciliation service Acas.

"This dispute should have been settled months ago, but Richard Branson's Virgin board blocked a deal that would have cost the company just £6 per guard per Sunday shift," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Instead, for two months they have been paying managers £100 plus commission in their futile effort to break our members' resolve.

"They have even had the gall to go cap-in-hand to the government seeking public money to reward their intransigence - a shameful move that was exposed in parliament last week.

"In a series of strike meetings our Virgin XC members have made it clear that they remain absolutely determined to win a just settlement to this dispute.

"Virgin can break the log-jam by dropping their outrageous pre-conditions for entering talks, or they can continue to show contempt for their workforce and their passengers and face the prospect of an escalation of the dispute," Bob Crow said.


Early Day Motion 1574, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn MP and signed to date by 24 others

"That this House is deeply concerned at the ongoing dispute between Virgin Cross Country and the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT); is further concerned at reports that Virgin may be compromising the safety of passengers by the use of untrained and medically restricted personnel on strike days; regrets that Virgin has refused to return to the negotiating table; and therefore calls on Richard Branson to urge his company immediately to re-open negotiations with the RMT."

See also:

2nd March 2006

To all Virgin Cross Country Train Manager Members

Dear Colleagues


There have been a number of developments in the dispute since I wrote to members last week on which I now wish to report. These include political issues directly concerning this dispute as a result of the parliamentary debate I?d mentioned last week. In addition to this I wish to report on an approach to ACAS made by the Union and management?s appalling attitude towards it. I also need to relay some worrying information about management victimisation in the Plymouth area as well as an update following the conclusion of the nationwide series of open meetings for Train Managers the Union had organised.


I am pleased to report that RMT has successfully scuppered Virgin Cross Country?s hopes of getting a government bail out to help them fund the ongoing Sunday Payments dispute.

A parliamentary debate was forced on this very issue by the Union when it become known that since March 2003, no less than £23 million of tax payers? money had been paid out to train operating companies to cover loses caused by industrial action by RMT.

Up to now, such payments had been made surreptitiously with the public having little or no knowledge about them. But by successfully placing this absurd arrangement in the public domain, there was no way that even this government could stand the ridicule of publicly funding a trade dispute that would only cost £6 per Train Manager per Sunday to resolve.

Instead, the employers? representatives had to sit and listen as the Transport Minister, Derek Twigg, admitted he had been in regular contact with Virgin Cross Country since the dispute began on 1st January. No doubt there were talks about how the government could help the company out.

But as a result of yesterday?s debate and the excellent work put in by our parliamentary team, the Transport Minister was forced to shelve any behind the scenes deal that may have been made. In again admitting there had been meetings with the company, he stated: "This does not mean that the Government are making or planning any intervention in this or any other dispute. As I have explained, industrial issues are for the individual company and the union to resolve."

So it now seems quite clear that for the time being, unless they return to the negotiating table, Virgin will have to continue shelling out £100 plus commission to every strike breaker every Sunday without getting subbed by the government.

Our parliamentary group will of course be closely monitoring the situation and will alert us in the event of any sign of a government u-turn. In the meantime, they have tabled an early day motion expressing deep concern at the ongoing dispute between Virgin Cross Country and RMT.

The motion addresses reports that Virgin may be compromising the safety of passengers by the use of untrained and medically restricted personnel on strike days and expresses regret that Virgin has refused to return to the negotiating table and calls on Richard Branson to urge his company to immediately re-open negotiations with RMT. As I write this letter, 24 MPs have put their signatures to the motion.

RMT Approach to ACAS

Hopefully this latest set-back for the company will get them back to negotiations, because an earlier attempt by RMT to get them to talks via ACAS was met with a response that can only be described as disgraceful.

The company responded in a letter to ACAS which put outrageous preconditions before they were prepared to get round the table. These preconditions were:
* That all industrial action ceased with immediate effect.
* That RMT accepted the principle that the benefits of any improved productivity are shared with the company with the RMT?s share funding its claim for improvement in the hourly rate for Sunday Working.
* That RMT formulate proposals regarding where productivity could be found in Train Managers? duties and/or terms and conditions and submit them to the company in advance of negotiations commencing.
* That we negotiate on the productivity improvements the company has already proposed.

To expect us to agree to any of this is absurd. The points they make about productivity are the very essence of why we are in dispute as it is. Our demand was that the Sunday payments increase without productivity in order to compliment the 35 hour week agreement rather than make a mockery of it. And the whole concept of putting preconditions before meeting under the auspices of ACAS makes a complete mockery of the conciliation process itself.

In short, the above four points put down by the company were just a round about way of saying that they?re refusing to negotiate, but as I said, this situation could now change.

Management Intimidation ? Stand Firm and Remain Dignified

As I said earlier there has been a worrying development in the Plymouth area following scurrilous accusations against an RMT member participating in picket duty there. A strike breaker complained to management that she had heard somebody call out "scab" from a distance as she was working a train.

During the course of the management investigation the incident was increasingly blown up by the complainant and management. As the investigation progressed, what had started out as a voice calling in the distance had escalated into a face-to-face confrontation. If such fabrication isn?t bad enough, management are also harassing the witnesses to the incident. Unfortunately for them, the key witnesses to the event (that didn?t even happen in the first place) were fellow strikers on the picket line one of whom is an RMT Company Council Rep.

Management are putting unprecedented pressure on these individuals to make false statements that will incriminate our member. Obviously these principled people are telling the company where to go, but this situation does stress the need for all of us to stand strong because no doubt similar stunts will occur elsewhere across the country.

For my part, I can only make one thing abundantly clear at this moment. This dispute will not be settled so long as one RMT member is disciplined, victimised or punished in any way for taking part in lawful industrial action. At end of this dispute, everybody returns to normal working with a clean slate.

Train Managers Remain Solid

The meetings organised by the Union especially for VXC Train Managers were very well attended and the mood was in all cases positive. We estimate that over a third of the membership involved in the dispute got the chance to hear the issues and have their say. Despite the many difficulties we have experienced, the membership remains solid and determined.

The company know this and are really beginning to clutch at straws. I have just been informed that at Birmingham New Street Depot, notices have been put out advising Train Managers that TSSA are to be given recognition rights for Train Managers and representatives from this association are being invited to the depot for the purposes of recruiting Train Managers. This may also occur at other depots.

Attempts by Virgin at divide and rule tactics are only to be expected, but is this really the best that they can come up with?

RMT is in no way threatened by this action although we will be fiercely challenging the concept of TSSA getting recognition rights for train crew grades as a matter of principle. However, I thought I would relay this information so that members will be ready and prepared to tell the TSSA recruiters exactly what they think of them if and when they come sniffing around.

So for now, the Sunday stoppages continue. The General Grades Committee will again be meeting to discuss the dispute next week and I anticipate an important announcement will be made. I will write again then.

Thanks for taking the time to read this long letter. STAND FIRM.

Yours sincerely,

Bob Crow,

Mind The Pensions Gap! - rail unions launch national pensions campaign

RMT: March 3 2006

THE GENERAL secretaries of the UK's rail unions will launch a national campaign today to defend the pension rights of the industry's workforce.

Mind The Pensions Gap!

Rail_unions_pensions (18k image)
Railworkers' Open Meetings:

9 March, Cardiff, 18.30 hrs - The Sandringham Hotel, St Mary St, Cardiff;
5 April, Bristol, 18.30 hrs - GWRSA Railway Club, Lower Incline, Bristol Temple Meads

Keith Norman of ASLEF, Bob Crow of RMT, Gerry Doherty of TSSA and John Wall of CSEU will hold a joint media conference at 10:00 on Monday March 6 in room 1 of the Congress Suite at Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS

The campaign's essential demands will include keeping contributions at agreed levels, maintaining benefits, keeping schemes open to new entrants and moving towards a single pension fund for all rail employees.

A series of meetings with railway workers will be held UK-wide by the three general secretaries in a tour that will take in

Cardiff (March 9), York (March 21), Glasgow (March 28), Edinburgh (March 29), Birmingham (April 3), Bristol (April 5), Perth (at the STUC, April 11), Manchester (April 19) and London (April 20).

Clear track ahead for new train firm?

BBC News: 2 March 2006
By Bill Wilson, BBC News business reporter

A new UK train company could be powering ahead by the end of the year if a hearing at the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) gives it the green light on Monday.
grand_central_map (15k image)
Grand Central's North East plans are near fruition but Yorkshire must wait

Potential newcomer Grand Central has spent £1.5m over the past decade preparing for its debut, and in January was told by the regulator that it was "minded" to give it the go-ahead to operate.

Grand Central plans to run three trains each way daily on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) between Sunderland and London, calling at Hartlepool and Eaglescliffe, on the edge of Middlesbrough.

None of these conurbations currently has a direct link to London and the proposal has been warmly welcomed in those places.

"Three trains a day is a commercially viable number for us, and we have shown that we are capable of running a fourth one too," says Ian Yeowart, managing director of Grand Central.

'New passengers'

Mr Yeowart is a former British Railway employee who once manned Penzance ticket office, and is determined to see his trains in motion, even though Grand Central's plans for a Yorkshire to London route are on hold for now.

"We have had support from the councils in Sunderland, Hartlepool and elsewhere in support of our plan in opening up the railways to more than one million people in the region," says Mr Yeowart.

Grand Central wants to slot into the 2006/07 winter timetable

"These new journey opportunities will attract many new passengers to the network for the benefit of the local communities and the whole industry."

Grand Central plans neither heavy discounts nor high walk-up prices, and tickets will be available on the internet, by phone, text, and at stations.

The most expensive return fares will be £60 from London to Sunderland or £55 to Hartlepool, with anyone made to stand on board promised a 50% refund.

'Core route'

However, rail giant GNER, which 12 months ago spent £1bn to secure the ECML franchise for another decade, has different plans for any spare capacity on the line.

It wants to run a total of 12 additional services each weekday to and from Leeds, to raise the daily total to and from London from 53 to 65.

"There are umpteen trains already going to Leeds every day, it is about time other places got a look in." - Martin Murphy, Railfuture

GNER says the extra trains were part of its franchise renewal proposals, and also part of a 2001 government request to increase train journeys between London and Leeds.

"We have proved that we can run the extra trains from Leeds with our existing fleet," a GNER spokesman said.

Not surprisingly these plans are supported by the business community and public in and around West Yorkshire.

"We are a very different operator from Grand Central," GNER says. "We run where our route tells us to run. We had to bid for the whole core east coast route."

GNER insists its proposed expansion has nothing to do with wanting to quash Grand Central's plans.

Privatisation idea

Unlike GNER, Grand Central is a so-called "open access operator" - a train company hoping to operate outside the government's franchise map.

Open access operators were a key idea in the 1990s privatisation programme, but only one - Hull Trains - has come into operation.

The government's Department of Transport appears to have been siding with GNER in the debate over who should get to take up spare slots on the east coast line.

GNER has called for the hearing at the Office of the Rail Regulator

In January, when the Office of the Rail Regulator said it was "minded" to approve Grand Central's North East plans, it also said the decision would mean GNER's Leeds application and another from Grand Central for extra services to Bradford would be rejected.

However, experts say that the government is worried GNER may be unable to pay its promised £1.3bn to the Treasury unless it gets extra capacity.

Now the regulator's office, chaired by Chris Bolt, is to hear from all interested parties once again, after GNER asked for a further oral hearing.

The ORR will then decide whether to change or stand by its earlier decision, with a ruling expected at the end of March.

Grand Central is already planning to be ready to run trains for the winter timetable of 2006/07.

'Money obsession'

Pressure group Railfuture is a national body which campaigns for an improvement in rail services across the UK, including passenger and freight.

Its North East chairman Martin Murphy says: "Grand Central has an excellent package which gives a hugely improved deal for people travelling into, as well as out of, the Durham coastal area.

"The argument is all about who should have the 'paths' further south of York, where the line is fairly congested."

He says the Department for Transport seems more concerned about future income from GNER rather than service access.

"Are we going to be obsessed with paying money to the Treasury or are we thinking about communities and people?" says Mr Murphy.

"It is hugely important that we get the regulator's decision that people and communities are just as important as money."

GNER believes its Leeds plan gives the "greatest possible benefit to the greatest number of people".

But Mr Murphy remarks: "There are umpteen trains already going to Leeds every day, it is about time other places got a look in."

March 02, 2006

Cuts to Cross Birmingham Line averted in new deal

Birmingham Post: Mar 2 2006
By Campbell Docherty
Local transport bosses have saved the West Midlands' busiest rail line from Government cutbacks.

Last year, the Department for Transport asked Central Trains to calculate the savings that would be made if the Cross City Line was cut from six trains an hour to four.

However, Passenger Transport Authority councillors are now expected to agree a deal giving public transport executive Centro the authority to sign a franchise extension deal with Central to run until November 2007.

The package includes continued Government funding for a "turn-upand-go" frequency of services on the line - one of the busiest commuter routes outside the South-east.

During negotiations, it is understood West Midlands officials argued that the DfT was asking the West Midlands to consider road pricing alongside public transport improvements while seeking to cut back on popular rail services.

Ahead of a PTA meeting to discuss the issue next Monday, chairman Coun Gary Clarke (Con Walsall Streetly) welcomed the deal.

"Ever since the Transport Secretary Alistair Darling announced a shake up of rail franchises, we have been lobbying hard to make sure services in the West Midlands are protected."

The extension to the Central Trains contract - which was agreed last year after slow progress had been made on a new West Midlands franchise to replace the train operator - also protects the rail link between Walsall and Wolverhampton.

The reprieve for both lines runs for another 18 months until the new franchise is created.

But transport bosses are determined to maintain them under the new arrangements.

Vandals stuck pole in rail track

BBC News: 2 March 2006

Vandals who placed a metal pole on a railway crossing in Somerset have been condemned by rail chiefs.

The 4ft black pipe was jammed upright between the boards of the foot crossing at Windwhistle Lane, Weston-super-Mare, in the early hours of 25 February.

It was hit by a train travelling from Paddington to Exeter St David but no-one was injured.

Robbie Burns, from Network Rail, said the line was heavily used and the vandals had put lives at risk.

Risking lives

"The actions of these vandals could easily have resulted in the derailment of the train and even death," he said.

"I cannot stress enough how dangerous it is to place objects of any kind on railway lines."

The line is used by local passenger trains travelling at speeds of 60 mph, with occasional high speed trains also using the track.

Mr Burns added: "I urge local people to help us stop these people whose stupidity put lives at risk.

"If you know those responsible for this incident or see anyone trespassing on the tracks I urge you to contact the police.

"Parents can also help by warning their children of the dangers of going near the railway lines."

Railing at profits

The Times: March 02, 2006
City diary, by Martin Waller

WE HAVE not heard a lot of late from the "Roscos", which own and lease back the rolling stock on Britain's railways to the operating companies.

This was one of the great scandals of rail privatisation - they were wildly underpriced and the original backers made a killing. One board made £42 million between them for a few years' work.

There are threats of a clawback of these indecent profits even if, as I said, the original profiteers have scarpered. The Government wants about £100 million a year from the industry, action expected shortly.

So what are we to make of this week's black tie Rail Business Awards sponsored by HSBC, which now owns one of the Roscos? The bank took seven tables, stuffed full of the great and the good, including Derek Twigg, the minister, Mike Mitchell, the Transport Department "rail czar" facing assault charges, and Chris Bolt, chairman of the Rail Regulator.

Let us trust so much rubber chicken - guinea fowl, actually, I am told - did not die in vain. The decision is likely to come from the Treasury.

Unions plan total rail shutdown in £590m pension deficit strike

The Times: March 02, 2006
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

THE first complete shutdown of the rail network for more than a decade is being planned by the three main rail unions in a bitter dispute over pensions.

The moderate Transport Salaried Staffs' Association has joined forces with the more militant unions, Aslef and the RMT. They are threatening to hold simultaneous strike ballots unless train operators and rail companies agree to a series of demands over the railway pension scheme's deficit of at least £590 million.

The first strike could be staged in early summer and would result in all 19,600 daily train services being cancelled. Travellers already face the threat of a strike by British Airways pilots this summer in a dispute that also concerns a pension deficit.

The last national rail strikes were in 1994, when signalmen alone managed to bring the network to a standstill.

The three unions are making detailed plans to ensure that their industrial action would involve all 22 train companies, affecting three million daily passengers. They fear that the rail companies are working behind the scenes to push the retirement age up to 65 and replace the final salary pension scheme with one based on career average earnings.

The three general secretaries, Bob Crow, of the RMT, Keith Norman, of Aslef, and Gerry Doherty, of the TSSA, will start their campaign on Monday at the TUC headquarters. They will also appear together at nine regional rallies.

Train operators have previously relied on deep rivalries between the unions to minimise the impact of strikes. But the unions have buried their differences and hope to use the pensions dispute as a conduit to reintroducing collective bargaining.

In an interview with The Times, Gerry Doherty, the general secretary of the TSSA, said: "There is going to be a huge row over the pension deficit.

"We are getting blanked by the industry and it has put us on a collision course. We are now preparing our tactics and would have simultaneous ballots and simultaneous action. If it comes to it, the whole network would be shut."

Mr Doherty said that the Association of Train Operating Companies had refused to talk with the unions, telling them that they must negotiate separately with each company. "This is a ploy to avoid engaging with us and make us use up our resources by holding separate talks," he said. The unions are demanding that the companies give a guarantee that employee pension contributions are capped at 10.56 per cent. Some branches of the rail pension scheme are so deeply in deficit that members face having to pay more than a fifth of their salaries in pension contributions.

An RMT spokesman said that the scheme had been undermined by the fragmentation of the industry since privatisation. Train companies held franchises for as little as seven years and had no incentive to take a long-term view.

He called on the Government to provide guarantees that would allow the deficits to be repaid over a longer period than the five years that is now being proposed.

March 01, 2006

Bristol Council cuts threaten historic rail line

Press Association: 01/03/2006

MPs have today condemned a decision by Bristol City Council to recommend cutting the £138,000 rail support grant which they claim threatens the Severn Beach railway forcing many more people onto an already overstretched road network.
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Severn Beach Railway: from Avonmouth looking towards St Andrews Road

In a Commons early day motion the MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy lashed out at the move condemning the proposal to cut the grant.

She says it puts the whole future of the existing local rail services into doubt, and called on the city council to reverse its decision rather than reverting to a replacement bus service along the route from December.

Bristol has one of the highest car ownership rates in the country - with only London traffic moving more slowly.

Friends of suburban Bristol railways (FOSBR) have fought a long battle to keep the line open - and have campaigned for increased services in the past.

They say the line - once forgotten by British Rail - may have been constructed at the start of the steam age and has a mile long tunnel hewn out of solid rock. It has been estimated that the line would cost over £100 million pounds to construct today.

The train is well used by pupils from Cotham Grammar School, Fairfield School and St Mary's School, Redcliffe.

Many local businesses and facilities including Bristol University, Radio Bristol, Bristol Zoo and Sainsbury's Supermarket are all near Clifton Down Station, while many sports centres, gyms and swimming pools are within walking distance of Avonmouth, Montpelier and Lawrence Hill stations.

Kerry McCarthy's House of Commons motion states:

"This House condemns the decision by Liberal Democrat councillors on Bristol City Council to recommend ending financial support for local rail services on the Severn Beach railway line in Bristol by cutting the entire £138,000 rail support grant from the local authority transport budget."

"This decision puts the future of existing local rail services into doubt at a time when rail users are crying out for an expansion of local rail services."

So far her motion has been backed by 11 other MPs.

Bid battle looms for Chunnel link builder

Daily Telegraph: 01/03/2006
By Alistair Osborne, Business Editor 

A potential bid battle is looming for London and Continental Railways, the company building the £5.2bn Channel Tunnel Rail Link, whose debts are largely guaranteed by the taxpayer.

Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, is today expected to make a statement to Parliament disclosing that the Government has received further approaches for LCR in addition to a potential bid from British Energy chairman Sir Adrian Montague, who has teamed up with Goldman Sachs.

A number of companies - believed to include Macquarie and Babcock & Brown of Australia, Deutsche Bank and Network Rail - are thought to have expressed interest in acquiring all or part of LCR.

Unlike the approach from Sir Adrian, however, they are believed to favour waiting until the completion of the 68-mile link from the Channel Tunnel to London's St Pancras, which is due to be finished in the second half of next year. If Sir Adrian proceeds with his bid, however, it could be contested.

In the interests of having a transparent process, Mr Darling is expected to invite expressions of interest from all potential bidders. He may give them a deadline.

Sir Adrian's interest in acquiring LCR emerged a fortnight ago amid allegations of "cronyism". He is a former Treasury adviser who knows the LCR project well, while Goldman's team includes James Wardlaw, who was at the Treasury until last May. They are being advised by Chris Houston of Lexicon Partners, who previously advised the Government on the link.

LCR also owns vast tracts of land around King's Cross and Stratford, home to the 2012 Olympics, where it would share development profits with the Government.

The LCR management has warned that a protracted bid battle could delay the project.

Flat Rate Pay Increases 2006

Circular No. IR055/06: (BR1/0001)

Dear Colleague,
The General Grades Committee recently considered the following resolution submitted by RMT Waterloo Branch:

"This Branch takes the view that we need to target future pay rises at the lower grades, by cutting back on differentials through at least some partial inclusion of flat rate pay increases. All pay deals to be on annual basis only. We also believe that it is urgently necessary to make progress on the restructuring of SWT platform staff as these members have been left behind our other grades."

The General Grades Committee noted that that flat rate increases along with percentage increases already form part of our pay claim submissions. The Committee further noted that our negotiators on SWT have made repeated attempts to make progress on Station Grades Restructuring without success and I was instructed to directly approach the company on this matter in an attempt to address our members' aspirations.

The reference to annual pay deals was referred to the National Sub-Committee for examination and report. Subsequently the following report was noted and adopted by the General Grades Committee:-

"That taking note of the resolution from our Waterloo Branch we instruct the GS to inform our negotiators that this GGC is serious in addressing the important matter of low pay in the railway industry. Therefore, we rename this file 'Flat Rate Pay Increases 2006'. Further, we seek a report from the GS detailing the lowest wages/salary groups of all companies with whom we negotiate. This matter to be placed back in front of the National Sub-Committee no later than 16th February 2006. Finally, the GS is to ensure that flat rate increases are prevalent within 2006 pay claims where necessary."

In line with this resolution I placed a document before the General Grades Committee detailing the lowest wages/salary groups of all companies with whom we negotiate, following which the following decision was taken:-

"That we note the excellent report compiled by our Research department, and accordingly we instruct the General Secretary to organise a high profile campaign on behalf of our low paid grades. This campaign to encompass:-

(1) Organisation and recruitment

(2) Highlighting of pay differentials

(3) Publicity and propaganda aimed specifically at companies and grades.

Finally, the General Secretary is instructed to ensure that all Regional Councils, Regional Organisers and Branches are informed and urged to give this matter high priority in their forthcoming recruitment plans.

This matter to be placed back before the GGC on a quarterly basis."

I am currently taking the necessary steps to implement this decision.

Yours sincerely,

Bob Crow
General Secretary

South Korean rail staff on strike

BBC News: 1 March 2006

More than 16,000 government railway staff have gone on strike in South Korea demanding wage increases and improved working conditions. Protesting railway staff say their demands have gone unheard.

The walkout forced the state-run rail operator to cancel more than half its services, but disruption was mitigated by the fact Wednesday is a holiday.

The government said the strike was illegal as arbitration aimed at settling the dispute was underway.

Seoul is increasingly intervening to end strikes amid growing militancy.

Possible chaos

The government has invoked special powers governing industries vital to the national economy to end disputes at Korean Air and Asiana Airlines over the last year.

Korea Railroad (Korail), which carries more than two and a half million passengers a day, has been forced to cancel 760 services.

"The government will resolve the issue by holding a sincere dialogue with labour on their just demands but it will sternly deal with illegal activities" - South Korean labour ministry

The company has recruited retirees, non-unionised staff and military personnel to provide a skeleton service.

Experts said there could be chaos when most South Koreans return to work on Thursday should the strike continue.

Union leaders said the company had refused to listen to its call for better wages and the rehiring of dismissed workers.

"Unfortunately the corporation has not budged at all and now the trains have stopped," said Paek Nam-hee, a union official.

Firm action

While urging a settlement, the government threatened firm action against the strikers.

"The government will resolve the issue by holding a sincere dialogue with labour on their just demands but it will sternly deal with illegal activities," the Labour ministry said in a statement.

The National Labour Relations Commission said on Wednesday that it would seek to arbitrate between the two sides.

Under South Korean law, strikes are technically illegal when arbitration is ongoing but unions have ignored this in the past.


BBC News: 2 March 2006

S Korean rail strike talks fail

Late-night talks to end a rail strike in South Korea have failed as the country returns to work after a public holiday and the new school year starts.

More than 16,000 staff stopped work on Wednesday over pay and conditions and the sacking of colleagues.

State-run rail operator Korail cut half its services but disruption was mitigated by lighter holiday demand.

Technically the strike is illegal as it went to arbitration after direct talks failed on Tuesday.

Police have issued arrest warrants for three union leaders and are seeking warrants for eight more, according to an official at police headquarters.


* Higher wages
* Better working conditions
* Reinstatement of workers sacked earlier

A railway corporation official quoted by Reuters news agency said Korail would probably have to "bring in the police to break up the strike".

An official in the railway workers' union, Paek Nam-hee, said it had tried to avert a strike by agreeing to put off a stoppage planned for December in the hope of finding a negotiated solution.

"But unfortunately, the corporation has not budged at all and now the trains have stopped," he added.


Experts said there could be chaos on Thursday as commuters return to work.

As of early evening on Wednesday, the walkout had forced the cancellation of 79% of long-distance passenger trains and 84% of cargo trains, Korail said.

Korail normally carries more than 2.5 million passengers a day.

It has recruited retirees, non-unionised staff and military personnel to provide a skeleton service.

The government has invoked special powers governing industries vital to the national economy to end disputes at Korean Air and Asiana Airlines over the last year.

For engineers, as the railways go, so goes Iraq

The Christian Science Monitor: March 01, 2006
By Charles Levinson

BAGHDAD - It's a little past 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, the height of the morning commute. But the platform at Baghdad's central rail station, which a few years back would have been bustling with activity, is abandoned.
Baghdad_Central (12k image)
LAID TO WASTE: Baghdad's central rail station lays abandoned, victim to decades of neglect and squandered reconstruction funds.

Iraq's storied railways are a worthy barometer of progress in postwar Iraq. Much as the rings of a centuries old redwood reveal clues to a forest's past, Iraq's railroads offer traces of the forces and tumult that have wracked this region for much of the past century.

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'Everyone looked at the people who worked the railways with envy. Working on the trains had prestige.' - Hadi Ali, director of the Iraqi Railways Institute, standing in front of the institute's looted classrooms.

"This is among the great old companies of Iraq," says Salam Salom, the traffic and operations manager for the Iraqi Republic Railways Co. "Just as Iraq has risen, fallen, risen, and fallen again, so have the railroads. And like Iraq, they'll rise again."

The trains are both a legacy of European colonialism and a testament to Arab efforts to shake off that yoke. In the early years of the 20th century, Iraq's British-built railroads prospered. In European capitals, posters for the Simplon-Orient Express boasted, "London-Baghdad in eight days: safety, rapidity, economy." Mystery writer Agatha Christie made the trip in 1938, and used it as the basis for her novel, "Murder on the Orient Express."

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Iraq's railroads were the thriving workhorse of an oil-fueled industrialization drive, transporting the bulk of the country's cement, oil, fertilizer, grain, and steel. Iraq was a model in the developing world at that time and its railroad men gained a reputation as first-class engineers.

"Everyone looked at the people who worked the railways with envy," Zuher Hadi Ali, the director of the Iraqi Railways Institute, says of his first days as a young railroading student. "You were someone. You had free housing, you got to travel all over the world to study. Working on the trains had prestige, and we were good at what we did."

Similarly, Iraq's transportation minister, Salam Malaki, a young political upstart, fondly recalls his first trip on a train as a 13-year-old boy in 1985.

"It was amazing," he says. "In the middle of summer, the temperature was 100-plus degrees, but the cars were all air conditioned. Waiters brought us food and cold drinks."

A $2 billion repair bill

On the few passenger trains still operating in Iraq today, the air conditioning has since ceased to function. A decade-long war with Iran, followed by a decade of UN sanctions, left the rails in poor shape. The US invasion in 2003 and the looting that followed decimated what was left. A postwar survey estimated that restoration would require $2 billion.

Rebuilding the railroads, essential to the country's economic recovery, was a US and Iraqi priority from Day 1. But despite $220 million in US aid, reconstruction has gone awry, with a lack of security, and rampant corruption taking a heavy toll. Like the country's electrical output, water treatment, and oil production, the railways are operating at just 3 percent of their prewar capacity, according to railroad officials.

Insurgent activity has stopped most train travel between the Iraqi capital and the south and to western Iraq, according to Iraqi railways spokesman Khames al-Rubai.

Going north, but not south or west

Those trains that do operate, do so infrequently. A ticket costs just 750 Iraqi dinars (50 cents), making it the cheapest form of transport, but few are willing to brave the journey. Just three largely empty passenger trains a week make the round trip from Baghdad to the northern city of Mosul. There's an additional passenger train that makes erratic trips between the province of Babel, just south of Baghdad, and Basra. Freight trains, the backbone of the railways, are even scarcer.

The tracks are in such poor condition that the trains travel at half speed, just 40 km/h. What should be a six-hour trip to Mosul, instead takes 10.

"The railroads are a real microcosm for the whole reconstruction issue over there," says Rick Degman, a former railway reconstruction adviser to the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority. "They've been stymied by the same things as everything else in the country."

The inability of the Iraqi government to provide a promised $3 million in funds has left a nearly rebuilt stretch of rail (with $25 million in US funds) sitting idle in southern Iraq.

In western Iraq the rails are idle as well. The US Marines did an estimated $3 million worth of damage to the tracks there during the siege of Fallujah in 2004. Farther west they have turned a crucial rail station into a US military base.

The vetting process for contractors has at times been haphazard. The US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) hired an ex-felon to provide spare parts for locomotives with predictable results.

"Any due diligence would have told you not to give a contract to this guy, but they did and he's delivered nothing on his contract," says Gordon Mott, the chief railway adviser to the CPA through 2004.

But like so much of the reconstruction effort here, the primary obstacle has simply been lack of security. The rails have become a favorite target for the insurgency. Three senior managers, five middle managers, and more than 20 railway employees have been killed by insurgents.

An ambitious project to renovate train stations throughout the country faltered when, rather than expose themselves to insurgent attacks, the US Army Corps of Engineers farmed out oversight to local contractors.

"It certainly appears that a lot of our well-intended money went down the drain on these station renovations because there was no one willing or able to actually provide meaningful supervision," says Mr. Mott.

But despite all of the setbacks and attacks, Iraqi and US officials involved with the railways are optimistic about the future of Iraq. Indeed, railway workers here share an outlook with their peers the world over. They are a unique breed with an almost fanatical commitment to making trains run.

"Many of our employees have died, but we will not stop," says Mr. Rubai, the Iraqi railways spokesman. "We insist on keeping the trains running."

While one doesn't have to look too hard to find a deep cynicism among many Iraqis, here on the rails, pessimists are surprisingly hard to come by.

"We could be the trading capital that connects Asia, the Middle East and Europe," says Rubai. "Can you imagine?"

Iraq_railmap (29k image)

Railway Workers Launch Strike

The Korea Times: 02-28-2006
By Lee Hyo-sik, Staff Reporter

Unionized railway and subway workers went on strike early this morning, demanding better working conditions and improved labor rights.

The strike is expected to disrupt about 70 percent of train operations, causing public inconvenience.

The government has threatened to get tough with the strikers, calling the work stoppage "illegal.?? The National Labor Relations Commission immediately decided to bring the labor dispute to compulsory arbitration.

Striking workers would be forced to return to work and be banned from taking any collective action for 15 days if the Labor Minister invokes the emergency arbitration powers.

Government officials urged the unionists to stop their walkout in a bid to normalize train services. However, the workers refused to do so, despite the arbitration decision.

After their last-minute negotiations with management of the state-run Korea Railroad (Korail) reached the 9-p.m. deadline on Tuesday, railway workers started their walkout at 1 a.m. today.

Subway workers also launched a strike at 4 a.m., halting around 60 percent of operations of subway lines 1, 3 and 4 serving Seoul and its sprawling metropolitan areas.

Korail management and union representatives have failed to narrow their differences on a wide array of thorny issues over the past month, including job security for rail workers and the early implementation of the five-day work week.

The union is also asking management to scrap its restructuring plan to reduce its workforce, reinstate some 70 laid-off workers and stop discriminating against non-regular workers.

The collective action came after the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the nation?s largest umbrella labor group, kicked off a full-fledged strike at 1 p.m., protesting the passage of a non-regular workers bill by a National Assembly committee.

Unionists claimed that the controversial bill would increase the number of temporary laborers, vowing to block the final passage at a plenary session of the Assembly.

KCTU said about 150,000 unionists at over 150 workplaces, including 40,000 workers of Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, took part in the walkout. But the Ministry of Labor put the number at 50,000.

About 4,000 members of the umbrella labor union, which represents more than 800,000 workers in different industrial sectors, also staged a massive rally in front of the National Assembly in Yoido, Seoul.

Relations between government, management and labor are expected to worsen further amid the escalating tension over the non-worker bill and the strikes.

"The ruling and main opposition parties unilaterally passed the bill and disregarded the worsening plight of non-regular workers. We will continue to strike indefinitely until the Assembly withdraws the bill,?? union president Cho Joon-ho said at a news conference.

He said that the bill will do little to improve the working conditions of temporary workers, while allowing employers to hire more non-regular workers and simply lay them off before they have to offer them a better employment status.

The environment and labor committee of the Assembly approved the non-regular workers bill late Monday night, despite opposition from lawmakers of the progressive Democratic Labor Party.

The bill will enable companies to increase their number of temporary workers, but requires employers to hire them on regular terms after two years of continuous employment.

It also stipulates that workers employed on a temporary basis should be treated on equal terms with regular workers who do similar work, while extra working hours of temporary workers should not exceed 12 hours a week.

"The passage of the bill is invalid since the Uri Party and the Grand National Party rammed it through without consulting with other political parties,?? said Rep. Sim Sang-jeong of the minor labor party.

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, the other umbrella labor group, is also furious at the passage of the bill, saying that it would take collective action if lawmakers attempt to pass the bill through the plenary session of the Assembly.

Business organizations, including the Korea Employers Federation, have also expressed their displeasure over the passage, saying the bill puts a heavier burden on employers as they must hire temporary workers as regulars after two years of employment.

"Companies should be allowed to employ contingent labor without hiring limitations for three years and provide job security after that period,?? a representative of the federation said.

He claimed that the bill benefits only temporary workers and its passage reflects political parties? efforts to win the votes of labor unions ahead of the local elections in May.

The rail worker?s strike is feared to bring the entire transport system to a halt as the truckers' unions have also pledged to go on strike with rail and subway workers.

The Ministry of Construction and Transportation expects that the rail authority can operate only 16 percent of diesel-powered trains and 34 percent of the Korea Train Express (KTX), the nation?s bullet train.

Against this backdrop, the company and government have worked out measures to cope with the expected traffic disruption and minimize public inconvenience.

Korail is resorting to about 661 non-unionized workers of Korail and soldiers who are mobilized to operate trains, while the government will ease restriction on operations of buses and taxis to make other forms of public transportation more available to the public.

"We will do everything we can to minimize the fallout, but the strike is likely to cause a great deal of public inconvenience and disrupt the transport system,?? a ministry official said.