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April 30, 2009

1,000 RMT workers to strike at Jarvis to protest against railway 'massacre'

New Civil Engineer: 29 April, 2009
By Ed Owen

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has announced that 1,000 Jarvis workers will work to rule and stage a one hour strilke in response to plans to cut 450 staff.

The action will take place on 5 May. The union said talks with transport secretary Geoff Hoon broke down after he refused to give any assurances over rail industry job cuts.

RMT members at Jarvis will refuse to carry out overtime for all shifts on Tuesday 5 May and will strike on the same day between 12.00 and 13.00hrs.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Nobody should underestimate the determination of RMT members to fight off the jobs massacre that is being lined up for the railway industry.

“Geoff Hoon and the Labour Government should be ashamed that they are sitting back and doing nothing while the private companies, who have taken billions in profits and subsidies from the taxpayer in recent years, hold a gun to our members’ heads,” he said.

On the 5 May, RMT workers plan to petition parliament to demand:

* An end to cuts in rail jobs and services. A freeze in shareholder dividends with all profits instead invested to protect services and jobs.
* An urgent industry-wide programme to ebable the railways to provide a green stimulus to the economy to help fight the economic downturn.
* A wholly integrated, publicly-owned and accountable People’s Railway and London Underground which put people before profit and where passengers and workers have a real voice

The RMT is currently balloting its engineering members over a proposal for industrial action at five other key Network Rail contractors over the threat to jobs and on Friday 1 May some 700 RMT members will strike for 24 hours on Stagecoach subsidiary East Midlands Trains over plans to slash 200 jobs.

“We’ve got a message for the government and the private companies in the rail industry. Our members are not cannon fodder who can be hired and fired at will while the bankers and the City spivs are being bailed out to the tune of billions.

“On 5 May we will be taking our campaign against the job cuts and for a publicly-owned, Peoples Railway to the Houses of Parliament. This is a fight that RMT members are determined to win,” Crow said.


See also:

Union leader calls for Hoon sacking

Press Association: 28 April 2009

A union leader has called for the sacking of the Transport Secretary after accusing him of refusing to intervene to stop rail fare rises and job cuts.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association said Geoff Hoon was a "do nothing" minister despite worsening job losses, cuts in services and continual hikes in fares.

General secretary Gerry Doherty said Mr Hoon held a "stormy" two hour meeting with rail union leaders who had called on the Government to order a halt to the cuts.


See also:

Sack 'Buff Hoon' say rail unions

Evening Standard: 30.04.09
Dick Murray
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Under fire: transport bosses are calling for Geoff Hoon to be sacked

Rail union bosses today called for Geoff Hoon to be fired, saying he is the worst Transport Secretary ever.

The demand followed a meeting yesterday at which the unions failed to persuade Mr Hoon to halt future fare rises and job cuts by rail firms.

Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the TSSA transport union, said: "I can see why everyone calls him Buff Hoon." The RMT union responded to the meeting by ordering a one-hour token strike next Tuesday among 1,000 engineers working for Network Rail contractor Jarvis which is axing 450 jobs.

A spokesman for Mr Hoon said: "He made it clear he expects NR and train operators to fulfil their contractual obligations to passengers and the taxpayer."

April 27, 2009

RMT hits main terminals as budget cuts fuel fears over rail safety and security

RMT: April 27 2009

Specialist transport union the RMT will be hitting main railway stations with a leafleting campaign on growing fears over safety and security this Tuesday (28 April 2009) as part of an international day of action to mark Workers Memorial Day.

Specialist transport union the RMT will be hitting main railway stations with a leafleting campaign on growing fears over safety and security this Tuesday (28 April 2009) as part of an international day of action to mark Workers Memorial Day.

Last week 11 tube trains had to be taken out of action on the Central Line after being attacked in Acton by gangs of vandals with bricks in an horrific incident which underlines the RMT’s concerns that both staff and passengers are facing an increasing risk of physical assault.

The RMT day of action on Tuesday, part of a global initiative coordinated by the International Transport Federation, will take the “Unions say no to violence” message out to the travelling public.

“With the budget lining up at least £30 billion of public spending cuts over the coming years there is a real danger that safety and security on the public transport system will take a hammering. That means a real threat to life and limb for both staff and the public alike and the RMT are not going to sit back and wait for the next tragedy to happen,” Bob Crow RMT general secretary said.

“Cuts in services leave the public feeling angry and frustrated and too often it’s our members, rather than the bosses and the politicians making the cuts, who end up as the punchbag. We’re not having that.

“This Workers Memorial Day we will also be remembering the 16 workers who died earlier this month in the Puma Helicopter tragedy off Aberdeen. We owe it to the memory of those workers, and thousands of others around the world, to renew our campaign for a safe and secure workplace for all,” Bob Crow said.

Note:

RMT will at the following stations at 08.00 hrs Tuesday 28 April 2009:

Glasgow Queen Street, Newcastle, Doncaster, Preston, Liverpool Lime Street, Birmingham New Street, London Kings Cross, Southampton, Bristol and Exeter.

RMT to demand moratorium on job cuts and freeze on shareholder dividends in rail industry crisis talks with Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon tomorrow

RMT: April 27 2009

BRITAIN’S BIGGEST specialist transport union RMT will join the other rail unions in talks with Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon tomorrow (28 April) over a growing crisis in the rail industry.

RMT will be calling on the government to meet the following key demands:

an industry wide moratorium on cuts in jobs and services, a freeze in dividends with all profits instead invested to protect services and jobs and the development of an industry wide strategy to ensure that our railways can be managed in a way which mitigates against rather than exacerbates the effects of the economic downturn.

RMT is also warning that the latest negative forecasts for RPI could see the train operating companies looking for even heavier cuts in jobs and services, along with massive increases in unregulated fares, as regulated fares are pushed down.

Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary, said today;

“While the train operators are jacking up fares by as much as 11 per cent, thousands of rail worker jobs are on the line and up to a third of this year’s essential renewals programme is being deferred. The companies are protecting their profits while those who run the services and who keep the tracks safe face the prospect of being dumped on the dole queue.

“On Friday, RMT members working for Stagecoach subsidiary East Midland Trains will be the latest group of rail workers to take industrial action other 200 threatened job losses.

“It is critical for the future of the rail industry that the government intervene now to stop the jobs massacre and to call to account the private companies who have bled billions in profits and subsidies out of the British taxpayer,” Bob Crow said.

New German national railway boss to take over from Friday

AFP: 26 April 2009
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BERLIN — Ruediger Grube (pictured) will take over as head of German national rail operator Deutsche Bahn on Friday 30 April under a five-year contract, the company's supervisory board agreed on Saturday.

Grube, 58, who was named after his predecessor resigned amid a spying scandal, was also approved as head of the railway's logistics unit, which includes Deutsche Bahn Schenker (DBS) the company's rail and road freight division - parent company of the former English, Welsh & Scottish Railway Company (EWS).

The nomination, announced on April 2 by Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee, had been approved by the Deutsche Bahn unions, after Grube promised to maintain the integrity of the company.

He also pledged to shed more light on the allegations that the company under previous chief Hartmut Mehdorn had monitored staff emails for signs they had contacted reporters or members of parliament.

Grube, who has sat on the boards of German luxury car maker Daimler and aeronautic group EADS, is known for his managerial experience.

Deutsche Bahn, the biggest German public company, is due to be privatised but the operation has been postponed because of the economic crisis.

It has also been hit by problems with the safety of its high-speed ICE trains and frequent delays in service. In a December poll, the railway was voted the least popular company in Germany.

Meanwhile press reports said Saturday that Mehdorn, who was 10 years in the job, had demanded that he receive the whole of his salary due to him up to the end of his contract in May 2011.

This would total 4.9 million euros (6.4 million dollars), according to the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Questioned by AFP, Deutsche Bahn refused to comment.

April 24, 2009

Go-Ahead's rail passenger growth slows sharply as experts warn boom may end

The Guardian: 24 April 2009
Dan Milmo, transport correspondent

Britain's busiest train operator has reported a sharp slowdown in passenger growth on its main commuter franchise, providing further evidence of the weakening rail market.

Go-Ahead Group said passenger numbers on its Southeastern service have grown by 0.7% since the start of the year, down from 2.7% in the final three months of last year. "Clearly there has been a fall-off in demand," said Keith Ludeman, Go-Ahead's chief executive.

The slowdown in rail passenger numbers across the UK has been most marked in the south-east and London, where more than two-thirds of all rail journeys begin or terminate. It has provoked a dispute between another major commuter service, South West Trains, and the Department for Transport, as SWT seeks extra subsidy from the government to cover potential revenue falls.

However, Ludeman said Southeastern was performing better than expected after it cut 300 jobs earlier this year in anticipation of passenger traffic falling by 3% in the six months to June. Southeastern's passenger numbers are defying that forecast, although analysts warn that customer growth could be nearing a tipping point. "Over the rest of this year we may see it slip into negative territory in terms of passenger volumes. They may be shrinking already," said Gert Zonnefeld, an analyst at Panmure Gordon.

Southeastern, which operates trains from Kent, Sussex and south London into the centre of the capital, was also buoyed by a rise in fare revenues of more than 5% so far this year, as ticket price increases compensated for the slower passenger growth. "We are still above our revenue targets to date," said Ludeman.

The Go-Ahead boss added that the group had "no need" to hold talks with ministers about Southeastern and its two other franchises - Southern, which operates the London-to-Brighton route, and London Midland. Southern reported passenger growth of 3.7% in the same period as Southeastern, albeit down from 5.2% in the previous quarter, while London Midland saw passenger numbers grow by nearly 5%. All three franchises, which carry a total of 900,000 passengers a day, reported increases in revenues, with Southern's rising by 6.7% and London Midland's by nearly 10%.

The pressures on the rail market are having different effects on operating groups according to the scale of their payments to the government, their markets and whether they qualify for extra subsidy to cover revenue shortfalls.

Go-Ahead's rail business is causing less concern for analysts because Southeastern is close to qualifying for revenue support and none of its franchises have pledged significant sums to the DfT.

National Express's and Stagecoach's rail operations are attracting the most scrutiny from investors because they include franchises tied into expensive contracts that were struck before the credit crisis. Stagecoach's SWT franchise is committed to paying the government £1.2bn over the course of its contract, while National Express has pledged £1.4bn for the London-to-Edinburgh east coast route. Shares in Go-Ahead rose nearly 3% to £12.35 yesterday.

April 23, 2009

European elections, 4 June 2009: a workers' alternative to New Labour takes shape

The Socialist: 22 April 2009
Clive Heemskerk

THE No2EU-Yes to Democracy electoral coalition, led by the RMT rail workers' union, took a big step forward last week when the national steering committee met to discuss the campaign's candidates for June's European elections. Bristol Rail RMT branch voted support for the intitiative at its meeting on 22 April and donated £500 to the election campaign.
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No2EU - Yes to Democracy press launch, photo Suzanne Beishon

Some regional lists still need to be finalised and funds are urgently needed to make a maximum impact. But the campaign is set to appear on the ballot paper in every one of Britain's eleven electoral 'regions', including Scotland and Wales. This will qualify No2EU-Yes to Democracy for a party election TV broadcast and make it easier to insist on other media coverage.

The full slate of candidates will be announced on May Day. Among the prospective candidates selected so far are important representatives of workers in struggle against the effects of the capitalist economic crisis.

As the RMT gears up for action to defend jobs, pay and conditions on London Underground, the No2EU London list will be headed by Bob Crow, RMT general secretary. Elsewhere, there are four other RMT executive members and a regional secretary standing.

In the Yorkshire and Humberside region, where the Lindsey oil refinery construction workers' dispute erupted earlier this year, the list includes Keith Gibson, a Socialist Party member who was elected to the Lindsey strike committee.

As The Socialist has previously explained, Lindsey was a victory for the working class, but it took the conscious intervention of the strike leadership, in which Keith played an important role, to cut across any national or racial divisions that could have derailed the movement.

With fellow Lindsey worker and shop steward John McEwan also standing, in the East Midlands region, the presence of socialists such as these on the lists answers those who claim the No2EU campaign is pandering to 'narrow nationalism'.

Visteon workers fighting against the brutal closure of their plants are represented by Frank Jepson, convenor of the Basildon factory (Eastern region list), and former Enfield convenor, Ron Clarke (London). They join Rob Williams, the convenor of the former Visteon plant in Swansea, now owned by Linamar, who is standing in Wales.

Paul Malyan, one of the CWU postal workers' union activists at the Burslem delivery office, victimised by Royal Mail as a prelude to New Labour's privatisation plans, is on the West Midlands list. Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, the former Labour MP for Coventry South East from 1983 to 1992, tops the list there.

The North West list is headed by Socialist Party member Roger Bannister, a national executive committee (NEC) member of the public sector workers' union, Unison. Fellow NEC member Jean Thorpe is standing in the East Midlands. Onay Kasab, Greenwich Unison branch secretary and one of the 'Unison four' currently facing expulsion for fighting for democracy within the union, is on the London list.

Other candidates include a Ford worker at the Southampton Transit plant, also facing closure, three National Union of Teachers branch officers, and the president and vice-president of the Indian Workers' Association. The well-known socialist campaigner and former member of the Scottish parliament, Tommy Sheridan, is number two on the list in Scotland, alongside another Solidarity member, Leah Ganley, at number three.

There has also been some clarification of the coalition's policy that victorious candidates will not sit in the Strasbourg European parliament. No2EU-Yes to Democracy will formally 'accept election' to the parliament if any of its regional lists are successful.

If none of the candidates on the list did so, it would precipitate a regional by-election. However, the exact tactics on how to expose the gravy train that is the European parliament - MEPs can expect to be millionaires at the end of a five year term - will be discussed at a post-election convention of the forces involved in the campaign.

What is clear is that no candidate on the No2EU list would benefit financially from their election and they would use the nominal position of MEP to fight against the EU's neo-liberal agenda, in Britain and Europe.

It is also clear that the No2EU-Yes to Democracy campaign is already rattling New Labour supporters at the tops of the trade unions. What can they say when the question is put by their members, who would you choose between the No2EU candidates and New Labour's pro-big business politicians?

The likely argument against the coalition is that it will 'let in' the far-right British National Party (BNP), which hopes to gain seats in June. But on the contrary, No2EU-Yes to Democracy offers the only realistic alternative of persuading workers rightly disgusted with the mainstream capitalist parties not to cast a protest vote for the BNP.

No2EU is a coalition for the European elections, and is only a tentative first step to independent working-class political representation. But, despite any weaknesses it may have, it will at bottom provide a pro-worker alternative to New Labour in June's poll. The task now is to make the biggest possible impact for this campaign in the next six weeks.

Scotland: Tommy Sheridan to stand

THE No2EU-Yes to Democracy coalition includes Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement. Solidarity's co-convenor, Tommy Sheridan, issued the following statement on the news that he had been selected as a candidate for the Scottish list:

"I believe the No2EU-Yes to Democracy list agreed for Scotland is a first class combination of socialists, trade union activists and prominent campaign leaders. As Solidarity convenor I am proud to be on the list alongside fellow Solidarity member Leah Ganley, John Foster and the others. The No2EU project is a trade union-led initiative designed to unite left forces in the labour movement and beyond behind a progressive socialist and working-class programme for the European elections. We are proud as a party to be playing such a prominent role in this trade union-led platform.

"Those who believe in a workers' Europe based on human solidarity and radical wealth redistribution as opposed to the current bosses' Europe of obscene inequality and denial of basic democracy should join with the No2EU campaign and help deliver the biggest vote possible for radical and progressive change in favour of ordinary working people and their families across the European union. The courageous decision of the RMT to break with the New Labour Tories and present workers with a real alternative in the forthcoming European election is historic and deserves active support from all forces on the left".
The European elections

THERE ARE 72 UK members of the European parliament (MEPs), elected from twelve electoral 'regions', including Scotland (six MEPs), Wales (four) and Northern Ireland (three). The number of MEPs from each region is related to its population size, from the South East with ten MEPs to the North East, with three. This affects the percentage vote needed by a party list to guarantee that one of its candidates is elected. Voters have one vote, for a party rather than for individual candidates.

Funds

Funds are urgently needed to finance the campaign. Cheques should be made payable to 'No2EU-Yes to Democracy' and sent, with your name and address, to Brian Denny, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD.

April 21, 2009

Network Rail 'spends millions on payouts for race and sex claims'

Daily Telegraph: 20 Apr 2009
By Jon Swaine

Network Rail spent millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in compensation payouts to staff amid allegations of race and sex discrimination, it has been claimed.
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Network Rail CEO Iain Coucher ordered an internal investigation Photo: PA

Almost 100 staff are said to have received pay-offs from the organisation, with many signing confidentiality clauses prevent them from speaking publicly about why they left the company.

Dozens of employees have received six-figure payouts while three senior employees were paid between £450,000 and £850,000, a Sunday newspaper has claimed.

Many of the claims allegedly centred on the behaviour of one senior executive at the publicly funded company, which controls Britain's rail network.

Among them were, reportedly, that he referred to a black female employee as a "silly ------- black -----" and kissed a woman employee while she was on the phone to her boyfriend.

One former human resources manager, was reported to have received an increased payout of about £500,000 when she agreed to drop proceedings at an employment tribunal.

An internal investigation ordered by Iain Coucher , the company's chief executive, reportedly upheld claims that the executive made politically incorrect remarks and behaved inappropriately.

But it said no further action was necessary.

The matter was raised in the House of Commons by Jim Devine, a Labour MP, who said: "My information is Mr Peter Bennett, Network Rail's head of human resources, is presiding over a culture of fear and bullying.

"Long-serving staff are being forced out but only after signing confidentiality clauses that prevent the culture of fear being exposed in the public domain."

A spokesman said: "Network Rail uses compromise agreements in a variety of circumstances where we need to protect the company against potential claims as a result of resolving difficult employment situations.

"This is entirely common practice in today's employee relations enviroment where the extension of individual employee rights has led to much greater levels of litigation."

The spokesman said that the company's lawyers were examining the allegations "with a fine tooth comb" but refused to specify what claims were thought to be inaccurate or defamatory.


See also:

Former Network Rail HR boss settles sex and racial discrimination claim after £500,000 payout

Personnel Today: 20 April 2009
Tara Craig

A former HR boss at Network Rail has received £500,000 in an out-of-court settlement after she accused a senior executive of sex and racial discrimination.

Vicky Lydford, the rail giant's former head of HR (national functions), received the offer on the day she was due to meet her former employer in court, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Lydford said the executive had been accused of a string of offences, including referring to women in his department as "blonde honeys", calling a black, female employee "a silly f***ing black bitch" and dismissing a female employee who he knew to be undergoing IVF treatment.

Lydford claims to have been the victim of sex discrimination on the part of the executive when she challenged his behaviour. She said "his disdain for employment law generally" was well known.

Spiralling claims

As many as 100 Network Rail staff are said to have received pay-offs after signing confidentiality clauses that stop them from speaking publically about their reasons for leaving.

Three senior employees are thought to have been paid between £450,000 and £850,000.

Many of the claims allegedly centred on the behaviour of the same senior executive at the publicly funded company.

Labour MP Jim Devine said in a Commons debate: "If the company uses public money to ensure the allegations never see the light of day, that is surely a matter for the Commons and the Minister [of Transport]." He also referred to Network Rail's "culture of fear and bullying".

An internal investigation upheld claims that the executive behaved inappropriately and made 'politically incorrect' comments. Network Rail said that no action was necessary as the executive had not acted "maliciously", and because he had a good overall record.

'Watchdog' chief defends Network Rail bonuses

Financial Times: April 21 2009
By Robert Wright, Transport Correspondent

Network Rail's controversial bonus scheme has been defended by the chairman of the rail industry watchdogin the teeth of political attacks on the programme.

Network Rail'sChris Bolt, of the Office of Rail Regulation, said it was "clearly important" that management at the company that owns Britain's rail network was made to focus on meeting its targets.

"That's what the financial incentive plan is there to do," he said.

His remarks follow signals last week from Lord Adonis that the government would prefer managers to forgo their bonuses this year - although the rail minister stressed that the issue was out of the government's hands. The bonus scheme came under fire from Conservative members of the Commons transport select committee last month.

The ORR requires Network Rail, as a condition of its licence, to operate a management bonus scheme. The requirement was put in place because the unusually structured company has no shareholders to pressurise management.

Mr Bolt said provided the bonuses were "linked to the regulatory targets, this was a perfectly sensible way to get the management to focus on what customers want".

Iain Coucher, chief executive, was paid £511,000 bonuses for 2007-08, on top of his £529,000 basic pay. The bonus was reduced because Network Rail's remuneration committee was concerned about engineering work over-runs in January 2008.

The previous year's bonuses were trimmed after the fatal Grayrigg crash in February 2007.

Mr Bolt declined to comment on whether the 2008-09 bonuses should be paid in full. The ORR will write to the remuneration committee in May.

Lord Adonis last week pointed to three overhead line failures in January on the London-Glasgow west coast main line as evidence of a "mixed" performance.

Mr Bolt said: "I don't comment on whether the overhead line problems are sufficiently significant to make a big dent in the bonuses. But, very clearly, we do think there's a place for a management incentive scheme for Network Rail."

There had been a debate about whether the regulatory targets for the five years to March 31 2009 had been sufficiently tough, Mr Bolt conceded. Network Rail met targets for a 30 per cent cut in costs and reduced the number of trains arriving late by 10 percentage points over the period. But there would be no such questions over the new period that started from April 1.

"We think they're appropriately challenging," Mr Bolt said. "It's not going to be easy for Network Rail to deliver them."

April 20, 2009

Deutsche Bahn hit by new spying allegations

Deutsche Welle: 19.04.2009

In an ever-expanding spying scandal, the German national rail operator has now admitted to searching the computer hard drives of its employees, but only in those cases when criminal activity was suspected.
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Deutsche Bahn is caught up in a full-blown snoop scandal

Deutsche Bahn employees' computer files were scrutinized "only in those cases, in which there was a concrete suspicion of internal company data being illegally passed on," the company said in a statement on Sunday, April 19.

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DB head Hartmut Mehdorn holds a hand to his head during his resignation press conference - The spying scandal has already claimed the job of Deutsche Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn

The announcement came in response to a report by the German weekly Der Spiegel, which claimed that Deutsche Bahn had not only - as previously assumed - monitored hundreds of thousands of emails of employees, but also secretly searched their computer hard drives.

The existing spying quagmire was rendered even more treacherous by additional media reports linking the company's monitoring activity to a parliamentarian of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing grand coalition.

According to the Berliner Tagesspiegel newspaper, transportation expert and member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Uwe Beckmeyer was on a blacklist of 30 Deutsche Bahn critics whose email correspondence with company employees had been screened since 2005.

The company, however, adamantly rejected this specific allegation.

"There never was any surveillance of journalists or politicians or their employees," the statement read.

Mehdorn's fall from grace

Embattled Deutsche Bahn Chief Executive Hartmut Mehdorn was forced to quit in March in the wake of mounting pressure over revelations the German state-owned rail operator had spied on staff.

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It is now up to Ruediger Grube to steer Deutsche Bahn through the spying crisis

Mehdorn claimed he was stepping down to avoid further damage to the company - Germany's largest with 230,000 employees. He described the campaign to oust him as unprecedented and denied any wrongdoing.

Mehdorn had already admitted in February that, as part of an anti-corruption campaign, Deutsche Bahn spied on 173,000 of its 220,000 employees in 2002 and 2003. Official documents have since shown Deutsche Bahn screened its entire workforce again in 2005 for corruption.

The 66-year-old Mehdorn had run Deutsche Bahn for nearly 10 years and won plaudits for turning it into a profitable global transport group ready for a stock market listing, but was heavily criticized for a confrontational approach to unions.

His hitherto unshaken support in Berlin, however, started to crumble in earnest as the scope of the spying scandal began to emerge, and finally public and political pressure became too much for the seasoned manager.

Germany's transport ministry subsequently endorsed 57-year-old Ruediger Grube, a top executive at carmaker Daimler, as the new head of the state-owned railways company.

April 19, 2009

Adonis signals rail heads should give up bonuses

Financial Times: April 18 2009
By Robert Wright, Transport Correspondent

Lord Adonis appeared to step up pressure on Network Rail bosses to forgo their bonuses, signalling their salaries should be sufficient reward for the job they do.

Interviewed in Norfolk this week during a tour that saw him travel 2,200 miles from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands to experience the network first hand, the transport minister described the performance of the rail owner and operator as "mixed".

The Financial Times reported last month that Lord Adonis had written to Iain Coucher, chief executive of Network Rail, accusing it of a "serious failure to take account of passenger interests" after disruptions caused by line closures.

This week he expanded that attack, pointing to three overhead line collapses on the London-Glasgow west coast main line in January and the simultaneous closure for engineering work of the east and west coast main lines last month as examples of failure.

Over the past five years, the company has increased from 80.5 per cent to 90.7 per cent the number of passenger trains arriving on time - within 10 minutes for long-distance services and five minutes for others.

Over the same period, it has successfully cut the cost for each unit of work carried out by 30 per cent.

Lord Adonis acknowledged there had been "some improvements" but there had also been "significant failures".

He went on: "I certainly would not say that Network Rail is incapable of significant improvement."

The Office of Rail Regulation obliges the company to have a bonus scheme as an incentive to improve performance. In 2007-8 Mr Coucher made annual bonuses of £511,000, on top of his basic pay of £539,000. Lord Adonis declined to say whether Network Rail's senior managers should be paid the bonuses they are due for this year. He said: "Bonuses are a matter for Network Rail. They are not a matter for government."

But he gave repeated hints that he wanted to see the bonuses withheld. "My view is that people who are paid good salaries for jobs should be expected to do those jobs for those salaries."

Lord Adonis also robustly defended the government's oversight of the rail network. Executives at companies that run passenger train franchises privately complain of micro-management by the Department for Transport, claiming that it stifles their ability to allocate resources efficiently.

However, it was important minimum service standards were demanded of train operators, Lord Adonis said. "Otherwise, there can be cuts in service which damage passenger interests."

He cited his action to force South West Trains, the UK's busiest rail franchise, to keep ticket offices open all day in places where the operator had wanted to reduce opening times.

The department had also specified in tender documents for the south-central franchise - which includes the London to Brighton route - due to start in September, that the successful bidder would need to provide extra car-parking and cycle storage.

Lord Adonis said: "Somebody has to stand up for the public interest where it's otherwise in danger of being neglected."

Franchised train operators generally had a near-monopoly over rail services on their route.

"I have no truck with those who say we should not be specifying, in appropriate detail, service levels," he said. "If we did not have those powers, I'm absolutely certain we would be forced to take them."


See also:

Train operators fail to impress Rail Minister Lord Adonis on network trip

The Times: April 18, 2009
Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent
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Lord Adonis aboard the (delayed) Darlington to Newcastle train during his week-long journey of exploration

They had been given plenty of notice to spruce up stations, clean the toilets and tell staff to make every effort to impress the Very Important Passenger. Yet still Britain’s train companies failed to hide their shortcomings from the Rail Minister.

Lord Adonis will conclude today a week-long, 2,000-mile tour of Britain’s rail network, travelling on 40 trains in standard class unaccompanied by civil servants or minders. He is returning to Whitehall determined to force the operators to correct the many failings he witnessed.

They will have to comply with new minimum standards for stations, including availability of staff to advise passengers, cleanliness of waiting rooms and toilets, more parking spaces and longer opening hours for cafés and kiosks.

Lord Adonis also intends to reverse some of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, under which many double-track lines were reduced to single tracks to save money.

In an interview with The Times on a delayed train to Newcastle upon Tyne, the minister also promised to protect cheap off-peak tickets available on the day of travel. The Government was considering abolishing price controls and letting train companies charge what they like throughout the day.

The reforms that Lord Adonis is planning arise from his direct experiences. The Department for Transport had given the train companies details of the tour, including the trains he intended to catch. But the companies could not prevent passengers from complaining directly to the minister.

One complaint prompted him to ring the customer helpline number advertised on ticket machines by South West Trains at Southampton station. He said: “I was hanging on for several minutes but there was no answer. I will be chasing this up because helplines should be answered promptly.”

Lord Adonis said that ticket machines needed to be made easier to use to prevent passengers from overpaying. He noted that his press officer, who had travelled from London to Newcastle to attend the interview, had paid £103 too much for his standard- class ticket (£266 instead of £163) because the machine at King’s Cross had given misleading information.

Lord Adonis was also dismayed to find no refreshments at 8pm on Tuesday at Southampton, a station used by 5.5 million passengers a year. “My worst experiences have been on stations, not trains. I was about to board a two-hour train to Brighton and I couldn’t even buy a cup of tea.” Birmingham New Street was another bad experience; a terrible station that must be one of the worst 1960s planning disasters on the railway — no lights, dank and congested.

“I am considering in future specifying more radical station improvements as part of franchises: improvements in the quality of retail, the amount of parking, bike storage, waiting rooms, toilets and bus interchanges. I want the best to become the norm. At the moment the norm isn’t good enough.”

Lord Adonis said that he had been disappointed that toilets were often hard to find or out of order.He also experienced a long delay near Yeovil, which left him determined to remove bottlenecks caused by single-track sections of line.

“My train had to be held for one coming the other way. A lot of lines were mistakenly singled after Beeching. Redoubling the tracks makes sense with growing demand and the need for diversionary routes.”

The minister said that adding a second track between Swindon and Kemble was a priority, as was removing single-line sections between Yeovil and Exeter and on the Cotswold Line between Oxford and Worcester. He revealed that, as a schoolboy in the late 1970s, he had campaigned to prevent British Rail from closing the Cotswold Line.

One of the most frequent complaints he heard on his tour was about fares. Lord Adonis said that he wanted to help passengers find cheaper tickets bookable in advance, and he pledged to block any moves to deregulate cheap off-peak tickets available on the day of travel.

“It is very important that there is a regulated cheap off-peak fare. It is essential that we continue to guarantee it to the travelling public, and that won’t change under my watch.”

Lord Adonis said that he had not personally experienced difficulty in finding cheap fares because he had bought, on expenses, an all-lines Weekly Rover for £375.

He said that he wanted to promote the little-known ticket to encourage young people to tour Britain by train. “It would be great if travelling around Britain became part of a young person’s experience, as inter-railing around Europe is. You can get a good slice of Britain on the train.”

Train companies bracing themselves for a barrage of reforms will be relieved that they scored highly in one respect. The VIP train enthusiast twice left his cagoule and camera on a train and each time staff raced after him to hand them back.

Stagecoach locked in rail contract row

The Observer: 19 April 2009
Dan Milmo

Stagecoach, one of Britain's biggest train operators, is embroiled in a dispute with the government over compensation for potential losses on its South West Trains franchise.

The rail and bus group is convinced that an insurance clause in its contract, potentially worth tens of millions of pounds, comes into operation next year. However, the Department for Transport believes that Stagecoach must wait until 2011 before the extra subsidy becomes available.

The rail minister, Lord Adonis, told the Observer that the DfT and the Perth-based group were at loggerheads over the clause. The so-called "cap-and-collar" arrangement ensures that the government funds up to 80% of the losses on a franchise contract if a train operator is missing revenue targets. "Unfortunately, there is a dispute about the meaning of the contract. It is not a question of the government changing the contract. It is the interpretation of precisely when [cap and collar] is introduced," said Adonis.

South West Trains is committed to paying the government £1.2bn by 2016 for the right to operate services between the south coast and London Waterloo - the second most expensive rail contract in the UK behind National Express's £1.4bn east coast franchise.

But analysts warn that passenger numbers on Stagecoach's rail businesses, which also include East Midlands Trains and a substantial stake in Virgin Trains, have barely grown over the winter. Some market watchers suggest that the South West Trains deal might have to be renegotiated, although ministers have ruled out altering any franchises.

With passenger growth faltering, Stagecoach is dependent on cost cuts and fare hikes to meet targets until the cap-and-collar provisions kick in. It is shedding 820 posts, but fares are expected to fall next year because deflation will push down inflation-linked ticket prices.

A Stagecoach Group spokesman would not be drawn on the dispute. He said: "As a matter of course, we have an ongoing dialogue with the Department for Transport regarding our rail franchises."

National Express in rail cash plea

The Sunday Times: April 19, 2009
Dominic O’Connell

BUS and rail group National Express will this week make a fresh plea to government for financial assistance on its London-Scotland train service.

The company, led by chief executive Richard Bowker, is attempting to resolve an impasse over the future of services on the east coast main line. National Express took over the service from Great North Eastern Railways (GNER) 18 months ago, and must now make large premium payments to the government just as recession bites.

National Express said at its recent results that it had opened talks with transport officials over the future of the franchise. With the government concerned not to set a precedent of bailing out train operators, Lord Adonis, the rail minister, is said to have rejected the company’s request for a reduction in the premiums or other assistance.

The transport group must pay the government £87m this year, and £140m next.

Government sources say a new proposal from National Express was expected this week, but the company would not give details.

It is understood the proposal will tackle the wider issue of train operators caught out by recession, rather than the specific east coast problem.

“They need to convince the government that it would be cheaper and less disruptive to renegotiate the franchise rather than scrap it and relet it,” said one industry source.

Analysts say the resolution of the east coast issue is vital to National Express’s future.

April 10, 2009

Transport minister finds cash for Kemble rail study

Transport Briefing: 06/04/09

Plans to redouble a 12-mile stretch of railway between Swindon and Kemble have been thrown a lifeline after the Department for Transport agreed to fund a £2.5m study into dualling the track.

The route re-doubling scheme was put forward by Network Rail for funding over the 2009-14 period but the independent Office of Rail Regulation decided in October 2008 that the project did not contribute sufficiently to the national rail enhancement criteria set out in the government's July 2007 Rail White paper to justify funding.

If the capacity-enhancing scheme does go ahead, it would allow more trains to run between London and Gloucester and would provide a diversionary route between London and south Wales when the Severn Tunnel is closed. Depending on the outcome of the report and funding for the project being secured, work on redoubling 12 miles of single track on the Swindon to Gloucester route could start in 2010.

Transport Minister Andrew Adonis said: "Doubling 12 miles of the single track between Swindon and Gloucester is an excellent project which has the potential to make a real difference to people travelling through the South Cotswolds on this line. My department will now work with the South West Regional Assembly and Welsh Assembly Government to explore other funding opportunities for the full scheme. The co-ordination between three organisations is a demonstration of the importance of this project."

There has been a long standing campaign within the region to re-double the route, both to improve reliability during service disruption and to offer the opportunity for train companies to operate more through trains between Gloucester and London.

Last month the South West Regional Assembly prioritised the scheme in its Regional Funding Advice to the government for transport schemes to be delivered between 2014 and 2019.

Andrew Adonis met a cross-party group of MPs on 22 January 2009 to discuss possible ways of funding the Swindon-Kemble re-doubling project. The national rail funding for 2009-14 is now committed but Andrew Adonis has expressed his personal support for the project and has asked DfT officials to work with the SW Region and the Welsh Assembly Government to explore other funding opportunities.

The DfT funding of £2.5m consists of £1.6m from the latest round of Regional Funding Allocations (RFA) process which has been fast-tracked for this project and £0.9m from the DfT's National Networks division. In addition, £100,000 is being provided by the Welsh Assembly Government.

April 8, 2009

Few companies seen dominating EU train, rail networks

Reuters: Apr 8, 2009

FRANKFURT - Europe's air and rail networks could each be dominated by just three players within 10 years as transport operators learn to cooperate better across borders and people's travel habits change, a consultant predicts.

In a pan-European study seen exclusively by Reuters on Wednesday ahead of publication, Boston Consulting Group said more than 30 percent of 13,000 consumers it surveyed from 13 countries would like to switch travel modes.

Similarly "more than 30 percent of drivers ... said they would prefer to travel by air or rail," BCG said.

"We are more and more seeing the 'European traveller'" emerging, Martin Koehler, the global head of BCG's travel and tourism sector, told Reuters.

Travel operators now have increasing opportunities to become pan-European, he said. European regulations coming into force early next year that aim to extend the reach of international rail passenger services will help this process.

"I could imagine that in ten years' time there will be three international airlines and three international railway operators cooperating in different networks," Koehler said.

Car drivers offer a huge target market for airlines and railways. In Germany and the U.K., for example, more than twice as many long-distance trips are taken by car as by air and rail combined, the study showed.

So far, only British low-cost airline easyJet and Ireland's Ryanair and to some extent Eurostar, which runs high-speed international train services beneath the English Channel, have ventured outside their home markets, BCG said.

BCG's Koehler said Deutsche Bahn, France's state-owned railway SNCF and Switzerland's SBB had good chances to grow beyond their borders.

Deutsche Bahn is already cooperating with SNCF on the Frankfurt-Paris route. It is also looking into a high-speed link between Germany and London.