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August 27, 2010

Conflict erupts at Network Rail after inquiry clears boss of abusing position

The Guardian: 26 August 2010 By Dan Milmo

Senior executives at Network Rail are at loggerheads with the organisation's chairman, despite an internal investigation that has cleared the chief executive, Iain Coucher, of allegations that he abused his position at the expense of taxpayers.

A tumultuous month for the owner of Britain's rail infrastructure has produced tensions between Network Rail's chairman, Rick Haythornthwaite, and senior figures at the company. It is understood that executives were shocked to find their management style questioned by Haythornthwaite in a newspaper interview that also questioned the future of two senior employees via unnamed sources. Haythornthwaite said Network Rail's leadership team had taken a "slightly militaristic approach" and had "put up the barriers a little bit" – comments that have angered some senior employees.

A source familiar with the thinking of Network Rail executives said: "The way in which the chairman so openly criticised some of the senior management is totally unprofessional. It is adding to the growing sense that he is out of his depth." The future of the director of human resources at Network Rail, Peter Bennett, was called into doubt in the Financial Times article, which also stated that Network Rail's director of government and corporate affairs, Victoria Pender, was "unlikely" to return from a long holiday next month. Network Rail declined to comment.

The internal divisions have emerged amid a slew of unsubstantiated allegations against Coucher, who is due to step down later this year after announcing his resignation in June. Coucher said he did not want to steer the company through another five-year funding settlement with the government, having secured a £30bn deal last time round. In an inquiry overseen by the chair of Network Rail's audit committee and vetted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Coucher and the company were absolved of a number of allegations printed in Private Eye. Those claims, from the TSSA rail union, alleged that:

• Coucher had access to a Coutts card allowing withdrawals of up to £100,000.

• A company founded by Coucher and Victoria Pender received payments of £180,000 every three months for unspecified services.

• Coucher was paid £20,000 a year for renting a central London apartment.

• Aggrieved former staff were paid up to £900,000 in compromise agreements.

In a letter to Network Rail's 100 members sent last week, the chairman of the company's audit committee, Mike Firth, said Coucher's expenses and salary were paid into a different high street bank. In a point-by-point rebuttal of the Private Eye claims, Firth added that Coucher Pender Ltd last received payments from Network Rail in 2003; that Coucher no longer receives an annual housing allowance; and that, while 150 compromise agreements have been struck with former employees, the most expensive settlement was less than £500,000 and the average value was £60,000. Network Rail has also stated that an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Bennett found the executive had "no case to answer".

"The internal investigations to date, which have been extensive and have addressed all of the investigations made, have not identified any instances of impropriety," said Firth.

However, the secretary of state for transport, Philip Hammond, has requested another investigation into further allegations by the TSSA, contained in a dossier seen by ministers at the Department for Transport. That probe is at an impasse, because the TSSA has so far declined to hand over the dossier to Network Rail, amid fears that it might expose a company whistleblower who is a key source for the allegations.

Network Rail is a quasi-private company that received a public subsidy of £3.7bn last year. The TSSA has called for an independent inquiry into the allegations but Hammond believes Network Rail must deal with the claims first. He has not ruled out asking Network Rail to bring in an independent outsider to conduct an investigation.

A government source said: "We want to see this matter cleared up as quickly as possible. The TSSA needs to present the allegations to Network Rail so we can get to the bottom of this."

Network Rail is continuing the recruitment process for a new chief executive, but it is understood that internal candidates are not among the frontrunners and Haythornthwaite will appoint an outsider.

Privateers cash in on public cuts

Morning Star: 26 August 2010 by Will Stone

Britain is set to be taken to the cleaners by a plague of companies raking in money as a direct result of government cuts, economists have warned.

The alarm was raised after outsourcing giant Serco revealed a staggering 22 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £101.4 million over the six months to July.

Serco's profits are the first firm evidence that private companies are raking in huge sums thanks to the government's public spending squeeze.

The company has won a series of public-sector contracts that includes processing benefits in Hertfordshire and a £415m deal to run Belmarsh West prison in Greenwich.

Another £650m waste management contract for the West Midlands council of Sandwell will see the firm collect and recycle rubbish in the area for the next 25 years.

Serco also runs the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), London Mayor Boris Johnson's bike hire scheme and Yarl's Wood detention centre, which has been at the centre of controversy following allegations of degrading treatment towards women and child immigrants detained there.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow has accused DLR management of bullying and the union was on the verge of strike action over the summer before it was averted by last-ditch talks.

But as the country braces itself for the biggest-ever government spending cuts in living memory it isn't just Serco that's rubbing its hands in anticipation at massive profits.

Other companies are set to follow suit by cashing in on the cuts.

Building firm Carillion has already announced it expects to take a leaf out of Serco's book by capitalising on the government's plans to close down the public sector and outsource it to profit-making companies.

Firms across the country are eagerly awaiting the coalition government's October spending review, which will confirm where the public-spending axe will fall.

"Companies such as Serco make profits by cutting jobs, reducing workers' pay and pension rights and by delivering a service on the cheap," said Left Economics Advisory Panel chairman Andrew Fisher.

"As this coalition government prepares to make deep cuts in public services, it is clear that privateers will be standing by to deliver their cut-price model of public services and this government will be only too willing to divert taxpayers' cash into the pockets of their shareholders."

An RMT spokesman said that it was "nothing short of obscene" that private companies are siphoning cash out of vital services in profits while the government is intent on cutting public spending.

He added: "The private sector isn't about providing services, it is about maximising profits, whatever the cost to the people who use or work in them."

Strong Unions - Sustainable Transport is adopted

ITF: 11 August 2010

There is a great responsibility on the ITF and its affiliated unions to defend transport workers in difficult times, using our collective resources as effectively as possible, delegates were told in the Strong Unions – Sustainable Transport debate at Congress.

The strategy document was unanimously adopted by yesterday’s plenary session. Introducing the document, ITF assistant general secretary Stuart Howard pointed out that it covered several themes, including defending basic union rights, addressing casualisation and outsourcing, fighting deregulation and liberalisation and meeting the challenge of climate change.

The subsequent debate took the form of a panel discussion of five delegates who shared their experience and ideas about building solidarity and strong unions. It was led by Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, and was followed by contributions from the floor of Congress.

Howard underlined the potential industrial strength enjoyed by transport trade unions. However, they had to organise nationally and address structural changes in transport and the political environment shaping them.

“We need to remind ourselves of the two basic functions of our industries – to move goods around and to move people around,” he added. “However much there is a global financial crisis, global production still relies on components and parts and finished goods being moved around the world along global supply chains and distribution networks.

“We have to look at how unions strengthen themselves and how we can make international union networks to challenge multinational corporations,” said Howard. “There are major attacks on public spending. We need to look at how we mount a global campaign to challenge public service cuts.”

One of the themes to emerge from the debate was that the notion that unions should not rely on social democratic political parties to deliver their objectives. Nor should they fund such parties that do not act in the interests of union members. These points were forcefully made by Edson Martins Areias of CONTTMAF (Brazil), Bob Crow of RMT(Great Britain), Roger Toussaint of the TWUA (US) and Niek Stam of the FNV Bondgenoten.

Stam deplored the way that many social democratic parties had adopted neoliberal policies.

“We have to start teaching our members what is left and what is right,” he said. “Maybe then they will realise what is going on when 50 per cent of the actions of these parties are against the interests of trade unionists.”

Introducing the panel discussion that preceded the general debate, Aidan White said of the panelists:

“Every single one of the unions has established good policy and good vision.The question is how do we find practical ways of delivering them.”

100,000 extra journeys made on Severn Beach railway in last year

BEP: 13th August 2010 By marc rath


Passenger numbers on the Severn Beach railway line jumped by almost 17 per cent last year.

The number of journeys made on the service between Bristol Temple Meads and Severn Beach grew from 575,673 in 2008/9 to 673,000 in 2009/10.

The Association of Train Operating Companies says the Severn Beach line achieved the fourth largest increase in passenger numbers among the country's branch lines last year, behind lines in Cornwall and Derbyshire.

Julian Crow, west of England manager for First Great Western, which runs services on the line, said: "We're pleased to see the number of passengers choosing to travel with us is growing significantly year on year.

"We do everything we can to make journeys as comfortable and relaxing as possible, and our performance and customer satisfaction is at an all time high. I hope this trend continues and we continue to welcome even more people on to our trains over the coming year."

The number of passenger journeys on the Severn Beach line has risen by 60 per cent since 2007/8, when 420,000 journeys were made on the service.

Dave Redgewell, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said that although the increase in passengers was "fantastic", there needed to be continued investment in the service.

He said: "This increase has happened as a result of funding from Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council. If that funding is no longer forthcoming, these figures won't continue to rise."

He said passengers had drawn up a wish list for the service which included introducing CCTV cameras at stations, disabled access at Stapleton Road and Lawrence Hill stations, a platform at the Portway park-and-ride site and ticket machines at Redland, Clifton Down and Montpelier stations.

Mr Redgewell said there needed to be extra security on evening services and more emphasis on collecting fares, with up to 25 per cent of them going uncollected last year.

He said: "The figures are fantastic and it shows how partnerships can work between local authorities and First Group. We need to make sure this partnership continues and need to make sure funding is forthcoming in the future.

"If we keep improving, we can get people out of their cars and on to public transport."

August 16, 2010

Runaway train on London Tube's Northern Line

BBC: 13 August 2010

A runaway train went through six stops on a 13-minute journey on London's Tube with other trains having to be cleared out of its path.

The engineering train became uncoupled as it was towed on the Northern Line near Archway station on Friday morning.

Passenger trains were diverted to another branch of the Northern Line while trains were cleared from the Charing Cross branch.

The train ran for nearly four miles before it stopped at Warren Street.

It came to a rest only because there is a slight incline at the station.

Tom Redfern joined the line in Archway on the train in front of the runaway vehicle.

He said: "As soon as we pulled away the driver came on the tannoy and said, 'There is an emergency, will everyone move towards the front of the train'.

"There was a ripple of panic. I went from half asleep to a big adrenaline rush. I thought, 'Is this it?'"

The train bypassed all stations until Moorgate in an attempt to keep ahead of the other vehicle.

Mr Redfern said: "We went full speed. We knew the situation was dangerous because we were going fast.

"Even by the driver's voice, we could tell it was serious."

Pat Sikorski, of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "We are appalled and horrified at this major incident which could have very easily resulted in disaster.

"The runaway train represents a safety failure of the highest order.

"We understand a collision with a passenger service train leaving Archway was only narrowly avoided."

The engineering train, which was undertaking rail maintenance work, had been travelling southbound on the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line.

But at 0644 BST the vehicle, which does not carry passengers, became detached from the towing train and began to move southbound.

London Underground (LU) staff diverted passenger trains to the City branch while directing the engineering train to the cleared Charing Cross branch.

The engineering train came to a halt at 0657 BST.

LU's Richard Parry said he "could not speculate" about how fast the train had been travelling.

"Northern line trains will travel even at full propulsion at 35mph," he added.

"I'm confident it would have been at a lower speed than that."

He said no passenger trains were closer than a kilometre (0.6 miles) from the runaway train.

"It was no closer than a kilometre away. That was the closest any train was in the area to where this train was," he said.

The line was suspended between Finchley Central and Archway and between Camden Town and Kennington via Charing Cross, leading to widespread disruption.

Mr Parry added: "Safety is our top priority and we have launched an immediate and thorough investigation into this incident."

Rail passengers face the biggest rise in ticket prices since the industry was privatised in the mid 1990s

Daily Mail: 16th August 2010 By Paul Bentley

Rail passengers face the biggest rise in ticket prices since the industry was privatised in the mid 1990s after the Government refused to rule out higher-than-usual fare increases.

Long distance season tickets are predicted to go up by more than £200 and, at the very least, commuters will see tickets rise by one per cent more than July's retail price index.

Under the current pricing system, train companies raise fares each New Year by one per cent above the level of the RPI of the previous July.

Last month's RPI, which will be announced on Tuesday, is expected to be around 5.1 per cent, meaning a 6.1 per cent rise to some ticket prices.

With a 6.1 per cent increase – the highest since the current formula was set in 2004 - a commuter travelling from Brighton to London, for instance, will have to pay £216 more than the £3,556 they are currently charged each year.

Season ticket holders going from Canterbury to London would see their £3,840 bill increase by £311, pushing the cost of the ticket above £4,000.

But the rises could even end up even higher if the government decides to scrap the funding formula - and give rail companies the freedom to raise fares by as much as they wish.

The current fares system was part of Labour's plan to make rail users increasingly pay a higher proportion of the cost of running the taxpayer-subsidised railways.
And last night Conservative Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond refused to rule out that this formula may have to change.
If his Department is forced to bear the brunt of budget cuts in the government's October review of finances, then fares could rise by even more than 6.1 per cent.

Mr Hammond told the Telegraph: 'It would normally be the case that next year's regulated train fares are calculated using July's inflation figure, plus one per cent.

'These figures are due to be published shortly. 'But this is not a normal year. The scale of the financial crisis that we have inherited means that we will have to make some tough decisions in the spending review which concludes this autumn.

'I am therefore not yet in a position to determine next year's fare increase. It would be irresponsible, at a time when investment in the railway is under pressure, to rule anything out until the spending review is concluded.'
At the time of the last ticket price hikes in January, Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker MP, now a Transport Minister, demanded a fares freeze.

He campaigned for lower fares during the election and is understood to have warned the Treasury of the dangers of demanding fare rises of more than ten per cent.

The Association of Train Operating Companies said any predictions that rail fares would increase were 'just speculation'.

A spokesman said: 'The Government is currently reviewing its approach to rail fares and a final decision is unlikely to be made until the spending review in the autumn.

'The average price paid for a single journey comes in at under five pounds and we will have to wait and see how this changes.'

August 8, 2010

Business warns ministers over rail cuts

The Telegraph: 07 Aug 2010 By Angela Monaghan

BCC tells Transport Secretary to avoid "hasty and ill-conceived cuts" or risk putting economic growth at risk.

In a letter to Philip Hammond and Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and its local counterparts across the UK said that without investment in vital rail projects the private sector will not be able to deliver the economic growth the Coalition is hoping for.

The letter, from the BCC's director-general, David Frost, said: "In tackling the national deficit, the Government must be careful not to damage future growth and prosperity. Rail transport is essential for supporting the future of the UK economy.

The chambers of commerce said three schemes in particular should be protected from the cuts in the coalition's Comprehensive Spending Review on October 20: the Northern Hub rail project in the north of England; electrification; and additional rail carriages to increase capacity on the nation's rail network.

The letter stated that all three schemes would deliver environmental as well as economic benefits. It said clarity on future investment plans was particularly important in transport where long planning processes were involved.

"Business will pay its fair share – through fares, general taxation and investment – but it is up to the Government to ensure that the rail system supports strong labour markets and business growth," said Mr Frost.

The letter was also copied to Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who is driving the spending cuts forward.

It comes as Begbies Traynor, the restructuring specialist, warned that the coalition's programme of sweeping spending cuts was already raising financial distress among UK companies.

It said that distress among companies in those sectors most likely to be affected by the cuts – including construction, IT, recruitment, business services and media – had increased by 3pc on an annual basis to 17,600 in July, the first month after the emergency Budget.

In June, however, the number had fallen on an annual basis by 9pc, and by 37pc in May.

"It seems that the impact on the private sector from public sector cuts is already being felt, with the fear that there is much more bad news to come once the spending review has been completed in October," said Nick Hood, partner at Begbies Traynor.

"With the deluge of daily announcements now beginning to provide details of the stark reality of the public sector cuts outlined in June's emergency Budget, the previous improvement in the health of UK companies has been thrown sharply into reverse."

The Government said in June that it would shave £83bn off public sector spending over the next five years.

Inquest sparks rail strike threat

UKPA: 4 August 2010

Union leaders have raised the threat of industrial action in the railway industry unless urgent assurances are given on safety in the wake of the inquest into the Potters Bar train crash.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union wrote to Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond, the Office of Rail Regulation and the Health and Safety Executive demanding to know that action is being taken on rail safety following notice from the judge at the inquest that there was a continuing risk of fatalities eight years on from the disaster.

The union said it will not tolerate any delaying tactics and will consider a ballot for action of all railway workers, including Network Rail employees, contractors and train operating company staff, if safety assurances were not made.

Rail metal theft crackdown after delays

BBC: 8th August 2010


Trains in and out of Reading station were badly affected on Friday Rail authorities say they will be stepping up their efforts to stop thefts after thousands of passengers were delayed on Friday.

A reduced service had to run for most of the day after copper wire was stolen from a signal point on the network near Tilehurst in Berkshire.

The delays affected services between Reading, Oxford, Swindon and London.

Network Rail condemned the "mindless" act and has vowed to fight the problem with British Transport Police.

A spokesman for BTP said: "It is a significant problems on the railways.

"We are doing as much as we can to address it."

Bristol City Council invite bus companies to bid for routes

BEP: 07 August 2010

First Bus.jpg

Bristol City Council is inviting bus companies to bid to run every single journey it helps pay for – in a move that could end First's dominance.

The council says it wants to encourage more operators to come into Bristol, to improve services and drive down prices. Critics say the move is just a "smokescreen" and could result in service cuts.

The authority pays £4,277,759 of taxpayers' money to subsidise routes – 24 run by First, 21 by Wessex Connect and two by Buglers – every year.

Services affected include the First 8/9 Temple Meads Circular; the night flyer buses by Wessex Connect, the park-and - ride services by both companies; the 500 Harbour Link and the 952 school bus by Buglers.

The supported journeys operate mainly in the morning (about 5am to 7am), evenings (mostly after 7.30pm), Sundays and bank holidays. Bus operators say they need the subsidies as the routes are not used enough to be commercially viable without support.

Normally the council would only put a small number of routes out to tender at a time.

But from September all the subsidised elements of the 47 routes will be put together in three or four packages that operators, including First, will be able to bid for. The authority would still subsidise the routes but could end up paying less to prop them up.

City council cabinet member for transport Gary Hopkins said: "This isn't going ahead on a basis of cuts. Competition is good for business – other cities have lower weekly bus fares.

"What we've had in the past is operators saying 'we're not making a profit, we need a subsidy or we're going to take it off'. We're still going to be subsidising them, we want to see how much subsidy operators will ask for to run these routes. The key thing is we need to get fares down, and the only way to change that is to get more competition.

"While things like smart cards and improved enforcement of bus lanes may not seem that big, bus companies are now saying to us Bristol is a good place to do business, which wasn't the case a few years ago."

In theory, one operator could run subsidised services and another run the unsubsidised buses on the same route. Mr Hopkins argued it was more likely the operator who runs the majority of services on a particular route would agree to run the subsidised journeys as well, but at a loss.

Campaigners argue this approach is not realistic, and point to previously subsidised bus services such as the 52, that were cut despite public outcry.

Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Dave Redgewell said: "First and Flights Hallmark (Wessex Connect) are the only companies big enough to bid for these sorts of tenders. The council is not going to get more operators in the middle of a recession.

"Buses are big businesses. Operators want the daytime services, not the night-time services. We're very concerned this is just a smokescreen to cut services. They need to create an integrated transport authority to get control of the network. The name on the side of the bus isn't the issue. It's whether they run on time, whether they're clean and have low floors."

The council aims to have the tender process completed by next summer.

A First spokeswoman said: "The Council is perfectly within its rights to re-tender those bus services it supports. As and when they put the revised tenders out we, like I am sure many other operators, will consider whether we wish to submit a bid for them."

A Wessex Connect spokesman said: "We're very interested in engaging in the tendering process for any work the council will be tendering that we can provide a proper level of service for, whether that's work that we already carry out or work we don't."

City could swap bendy buses for a new Ultra Light Rail system

BEP: August 04, 2010

BRISTOL City Council should know whether it can swap bendy buses for a light tram system by the autumn.

Ultra Light Rail is essentially a tram that can run on branch rail lines and roads, is environmentally friendly and does not require electrification.

Unlike trams, the tracks can be laid down on road surfaces, which means roads don't have to be dug up to make it work, and overhead electric cables are not needed.

Currently, the West of England Partnership – which includes the city council and its three neighbouring local authorities – has government funding bids in for £288 million of bendy bus routes across Bristol.

But, as previously reported in the Evening Post, the city council believes the Coalition Government is keener on ULR than the bendy bus Rapid Transit System and so is considering a switch.

If Bristol introduced urban ULR it would be the first city in the country to do so, although a small scale operation runs on one rail line in Stourbridge in the West Midlands.

August 6, 2010

Network Rail to investigate 'lavish pay and perks' claims against chief executive

The Telegraph: 06 Aug 2010 By Louisa Peacock


Rick Haythornthwaite, the Network Rail chairman, has vowed to investigate claims that the company's outgoing chief executive Iain Coucher enjoyed "lavish pay and perks" at the taxpayer's expense.

Iain Coucher is Network Rail's chief executive. The allegations have been made in a series of articles in satirical magazine Private Eye, and include details of how Mr Coucher allegedly had the use of a Coutts World Card which allowed him to draw up to £100,000 a day in business expenses.

Other claims include that he was paid £20,000 a year for renting an elegant apartment in a Georgian square in central London and that he was paid £13,000 a year towards the cost of running his Aston Martin.

Network Rail said "several members" had raised the allegations with Mr Haythornthwaite to find out what he was going to do about it.

In an email to the 100 public members at Network Rail, Mr Haythornthwaite wrote: "Whilst Private Eye does not always have a reputation as a document of record, the innuendo and occasional specific allegations that have been appearing over the past 18 months in it and various other publications are harmful to the reputation of the company and the individuals concerned."

He added: "I will be reviewing again the findings of those investigations and looking at the only new allegations to emerge in this article."

A Network Rail spokesman dismissed the claims as "nonsense". He added: "Naturally, [the chairman] wants to allay [members'] concerns by reporting back to them."

Mr Coucher, who resigned in June after three years in the role, will receive £641,349 in bonuses on top of his salary of about £600,000.

It's the same old Torys

Morning Star: 04 August 2010

If you need evidence that, as this newspaper has been claiming since the election, the Con-Dem coalition is conducting an overt class-war offensive against working people, you don't have to look much further than its emerging social housing policies.

It started in June, with Iain Duncan Smith announcing that the government was planning to force working people out of their homes and their areas to chase non-existent jobs the length and breadth of the country.

In fact, he phrased it as "plans to encourage the unemployed to move to other areas with better opportunities" but, stripped of the window-dressing, our version is almost certainly more accurate.

Because the jobs don't exist and, in addition, where a few new jobs do appear, there are many more than enough candidates available locally to fill them.

A survey showed on Tuesday that there are, in most areas, at least nine available applicants for every vacancy, rising in London to a mindbending 36.

Mr Duncan Smith's policy, therefore, didn't make much sense in the minds of anyone who knew the situation.

But it makes a lot more sense now, when put in the context of Prime Minister David Cameron's further mapping out of the policy's detail.

It turns out that mobility is the least part of the plan. The rest of it entails tenants losing their security of tenure and being made vulnerable to being summarily kicked out if their family circumstances change and, in any event, only having tenure for a fixed term, no matter what the circumstances.

The sheer vindictiveness of the policy was well demonstrated by Mr Cameron when he addressed a meeting in Birmingham.

"At the moment," he said, "we have a system very much where, if you get a council house or an affordable house, it is yours for ever."

And in shocked tones he warned that, "in some cases, people actually hand them down to their children."

And there you have it. The defender of inheritance and family wealth, both in principle and in his own life, feels that what is good enough for the wealthy shouldn't under any circumstances be extended to the lower orders.

If you're posh enough, you can inherit your parents' home when they die, but, if you are working class and your parents die, you ought to be kicked out in the street to fend for yourself, apparently.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps took it even further. Many tenants, he said, remain trapped in their homes by "the safety net that social housing provides."

Well, we've got news for the honourable gentleman. it isn't the social housing system that traps people, it is a system of low wages, insecure unemployment and a free market in house prices that constitutes the trap.

When a house for your family can cost around 10 years of your wages and you will pay back three times what you borrow, a mortgage is out of the question.

When your utility bills double every few years so that avaricious transnationals can pay big dividends to greedy shareholders, that constitutes a trap.

When the transport bills, if you move to a cheaper location, can outweigh the savings on the house price, those constitute a trap and it's a trap that there's little you can do about.

And when the government steadily sells off its social housing stock while at the same time making hundreds of thousands redundant and therefore in need of cheaper housing, that constitutes a trap.

No, this government's policies aren't about getting poorer people out of a social housing trap.

They are designed to get them into an even bigger and more vicious trap called the private sector.

And as animals know very well, when you're trapped, the trapper skins you and sells the pelt.

This coalition isn't looking to free people from a trap, it's looking to steer them into one that they and theirs can profit from.

It's still the same old sTory.

August 2, 2010

Unions planning national protests

UKPA: Aug 2 2010

RMT official picket.jpg

Unions will be urged to organise national days of protest and co-ordinated industrial action against the Government's public spending cuts during the TUC's annual conference next month.

A motion tabled by the Rail Maritime and Transport union calls for an immediate summit of union leaders to discuss how to co-ordinate industrial action to defend jobs, services and pensions.

The union will also urge delegates at the Manchester conference to set up an alliance with users of public services as well as national days of protest and a lobby of Parliament.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "The TUC has to be the launch-pad for the fightback against the coalition Government's decision to launch all-out class warfare through their unprecedented attack on our communities, public services, welfare state and transport system.

"Our defence must be built on generalised strike action and community resistance in the biggest public mobilisation since the anti-poll tax movement.

"RMT is in no doubt that the Government is using the deficit as a thinly veiled cover to engage in an ideological dismantling of the state and an attack on workers, and the most vulnerable in our society, which goes far further than even the dark days of Thatcher."

The TUC Congress is being held from September 13 to 16, with the public spending cuts expected to feature heavily in debates.

No Government ministers will address the conference but speakers will include Bank of England Governor Mervyn King.

Abu Dhabi SWF joins Morgan Stanley in UK rail bid

Reuters: Aug 1, 2010

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) has agreed to join Morgan Stanley and private equity group 3i in a bid for the high-speed railway linking London with the Channel Tunnel, Abu Dhabi's National newspaper said.

State-owned ADIA, considered the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, is in the "very early stages" regarding its involvement in the bid, the paper said, citing a source close to the sale process.

The sale process could fetch 1.5 billion to 2 billion pounds according to the paper.

An ADIA spokesman declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

The sale of the 110-km High Speed 1 (HS1) line, which links central London to the Channel Tunnel, will be the first major British transport infrastructure sale since airport operator BAA sold London's Gatwick airport late last year.

ADIA bought a 15 percent stake in Gatwick Airport earlier this year.

Britain began the sale of the rights to operate the country's only high-speed railway in June, helping raise much-needed funds for the public purse.

Other bidders include Channel tunnel operator Groupe Eurotunnel SA which is working on a bid with Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, its biggest shareholder, and with Infracapital, the infrastructure arm of Prudential unit M&G, another big shareholder.

Call for death rail chiefs to lose bonuses

Morning Star: 01 August 2010by Lizzie Cocker

Network Rail bosses who oversaw the fatal maintenance regime which led to the Potters Bar crash should be stripped of their "grotesque" bonuses, transport union RMT has said.

General secretary Bob Crow said it was "sickening" that the bosses who continue to maintain "a rail system that the Potters Bar judge has described as presenting a continuing risk to life and limb have scooped up massive bonuses."

The coroner on the inquest into the crash, Judge Michael Findlay Baker QC, is due to release a report warning that passengers still risked death under NR management of rail infrastructure.

Mr Crow said this nailed "the lie that the organisation have got their house in order when it comes to safety."

With the coroner's report hanging over them "it would be an outrage if they were to plough on with their safety-critical cuts plans," he said.

Inquest jurors found that the 2002 disaster was caused by failure to inspect or maintain the points system.

The Crown Prosecution Service is also considering whether to bring manslaughter charges or a criminal case under health and safety law.

Criminal charges were initially ruled out in 2005 but prosecutors are reviewing whether new evidence has come to light from the inquest.

RMT has repeatedly warned of another disaster because of continued NR cost-cutting.

Mr Crow blasted NR for rewarding senior management "for cutting jobs and for axing inspection, renewals and maintenance and for presiding over systemic and continuing failures on rail safety."

He added: "They should be stripped of these grotesque bonuses and should be immediately instructed by the government to halt their cuts programme."

Potters Bar rail crash could be repeated, says coroner

The Independant: 31 July 2010 By Kevin Rawlinson


Seven people died in the Potters Bar rail crash as a result of a points failure caused by track inspection and maintenance failures, an inquest jury concluded yesterday.

Six passengers – Austen Kark, Emma Knights, Jonael Schickler, Alexander Ogunwusi, Chia Hsin Lin and Chia Chin Wu – were killed in the crash in Hertfordshire on 10 May 2002.

The seventh victim, Agnes Quinlivan, who was walking nearby, died after she was hit by debris.

The jury appointed to hear the inquest into the deaths heard that points near Potters Bar station were "cracked" and "poorly" maintained.

Judge Michael Findlay Baker, the presiding coroner, will now file a report to the Lord Chancellor warning of the potential for another fatal crash on the railways. Rail regulators will consider criminal proceedings and the Crown Prosecution Service will look at any new evidence that came to light during the inquest.

Relatives said the eight years since the crash had been a "long traumatic haul" and "the most difficult journey". They thanked the jury but insisted that there were still questions to be answered. Many are unhappy that the jury was limited in what it could consider.

Pat Smith, the daughter of Ms Quinlivan, called for a public inquiry and expressed her hope that lessons had been learned. John Knights, father of Ms Knights, 29, said after the verdict: "I'd like to say we are grateful to the jury and we are somewhat disappointed that the jury was not allowed to consider systemic failures of the accident, as opposed to being allowed to consider immediate causes."

The writer Nina Bawden, widow of Mr Kark, 75, said she would like to feel that the inquest would help improve rail safety. The inquest into the rail crash deaths took seven weeks. But relatives were unhappy they had to wait so long to see it.

The coroner admitted their wait for answers was "indefensible". He said he would file a report under Rule 43 of the 1984 Coroners Rules, which allows coroners to express concern that circumstances continue to create a risk of other deaths.

"Whatever the causes, the passage of over eight years from the derailment to the conclusion of the hearing of the inquest is indefensible. The families are due a public apology, and as the current representative of the system whose abuse has led to this delay, I offer that apology.

"It feels wholly inadequate, but it is all that it is within my power to do. I hope a line may begin to be drawn, and a sad and lengthy chapter in many lives may be closed," said Judge Baker.

A further 70 people were injured in the crash when the 12.45pm King's Cross to King's Lynn train, travelling at 98mph, and within the legal speed limit, derailed as it approached Potters Bar station at around 1pm.

All of the passengers killed were travelling in the fourth coach, which detached from the rest and became airborne.

Jurors heard that less than a year before the crash, a workman fixing a set of points near to Potters Bar found one of the nuts – designed to stay fixed under pressure from vibrations – missing. A Railtrack production supervisor said the workman did not replace it, but instead used the chisel in an improvised attempt to prevent the remaining nut coming unscrewed.

Two people, one a rail worker, had made three separate reports about "rough rides" on the northbound approach to the station, jurors were also told. The lawyer representing the families expressed the concern that maintenance staff were still ill-equipped to deal with defects on the railway.

A Network Rail spokesman insisted that safety standards have improved: "The railways are almost unrecognisable since the days of Railtrack and the Potters Bar tragedy of 2002." The spokesman added that private contractors are no longer involved in day-to-day maintenance of the rail infrastructure.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, claimed that cuts to maintenance and renewals were "dragging us back to exactly the same poisonous cocktail of conditions that led to Potters Bar".

He demanded an end to "the axeing of safety-critical rail maintenance jobs, and an end to the shelving of essential renewals work".

The CPS announced five years ago that there would be no criminal charges brought. But a spokesman said yesterday: "We will now consider whether any evidence arose out of the inquest which would require us to review our decision from 2005." The inquest was held in Letchworth in Hertfordshire.

Eight years of waiting

10 May 2002

A train travelling at 98mph derails at a set of points near Potters Bar station in Hertfordshire. Six passengers and one pedestrian are killed as a carriage leaves the ground and crashes along the platform into the station building.

14 May 2002

Four nuts on the points where the train derailed were not in position, a Health and Safety Executive interim report into the accident reveals. Jarvis, the company responsible for maintaining the track, says two of the detached nuts had been found out of position nine days before and been put back.

11 July 2002

Railtrack was alerted to a problem on the line at Potters Bar just hours before the crash but directed maintenance workers to inspect the wrong section of track, Jarvis claims.

29 May 2003

The points which failed were poorly maintained and not properly adjusted, says the HSE's third report.

27 March 2004

Network Rail and Jarvis accepted liability on behalf of the rail industry for "all legally justified claims brought by the bereaved and injured in respect of the Potters Bar crash".

10 October 2005

No criminal charges will be brought over the derailment which claimed seven lives, the Crown Prosecution Service announces.

8 December 2005

The Government rules out holding a public inquiry.

30 July 2010

The jury decides the crash occurred as a result of a points failure caused by the unsafe condition of the points, adding that there were failures of inspection and/or maintenance of the points in the period before the crash.

Relatives' reaction: It's been a long haul – and we've not got all the answers

Anne and Pat Smith, daughters of Agnes Quinlivan

Pat said: "It's been a long traumatic haul. Eight years ago seven much loved and gifted people lost their lives and it has extended right out to the families.

"It's been the most difficult journey that I don't think anyone could have ever envisaged. Nobody expects to lose someone the way we have all lost somebody here, nobody expects to wait eight years to understand why it happened. And now we have only got some of the answers, we haven't got all of the answers yet.

"We've listened to a catalogue of inadequacies and shoddy maintenance and shoddy management systems that should have been rectified a long time ago. We hope now they will put them right. We thank the jury because they seem to have listened but again they were limited as to what they could do."

Anne said: "I think within the limitations placed upon them, the jury answered the questions as well as one could hope for. I hope that we may begin to draw a line under it, as the coroner said, but these findings will take a little time to bed in.

"The greatest thing that could happen is that they take another look at safety. Instead of investing in directors' bonuses, they should invest in people."

Nina Bawden, author and widow of Austen Kark

"I would like to feel that the inquest has served the purpose of leading to improvements in safety on the railways."

Rail link to wine store cuts lorry congestion

BEP: July 29, 2010

A FIRM that operates Europe's biggest wine warehouse says it is taking thousands of lorries off Bristol's road network every year thanks to a newly reopened rail link.

The firm that runs the massive warehouse in Avonmouth has been part of a scheme that has reopened a stretch of track and a disused freight depot close to Temple Meads station.

Every year an estimated nine million bottles of wine will go through the depot on their journey to the Constellation warehouse.

The re-opening of the rail link and the depot means the wine can be shipped directly from the South East ferry ports, rather than driven across the country by lorries. Under the joint scheme operated by Network Rail and Freightliner, seven trains packed with booze rumble into the South Liberty Lane depot every week.

Trans Ocean is a world leader in the wine market and manages the movement of wine imports to the mega warehouse in Avonmouth, which is owned by Constellation Europe.

According to the company, the rail depot means at least 10,000 lorries have been taken off Bristol's road and motorway network – the equivalent of more than one million road miles of lorry journeys.

Simon Williams, from Constellation Wines Australia and Europe, said: "The new initiatives enable us both to streamline our supply chain operations and reduce carbon emissions.

"We are extremely happy to endorse and implement the innovative initiatives that Trans Ocean will provide."

Peter Willey, senior freight manager at Network Rail, said: "Britain relies on rail and the value of rail freight is considerable. For businesses, rail freight can offer a cheaper, quicker and more practical alternative to moving goods by road.

"Almost £700 million of social and environment benefits each year can be attributed to freight traffic on Britain's railways. For instance, around 80,000 tonnes of waste from Bristol are removed by rail annually.

"Without the railway, the anticipated growth in freight traffic over the next 30 years would mean an extra 1.5 million lorry journeys on Britain's roads each year. Each freight train can take up to 60 lorries off the roads and shifting traffic from already congested roads to rail will bring greater future benefits."

Other firms and companies in Bristol that rely on rail freight include Bristol City Council, Whatley, Merehead and Bristol Port.

Demand for rail freight has grown by 70 per cent over the last decade across the country. This demand is predicted to grow by 30 per cent over the next decade.

Government figures show that in the next ten years, rail freight could deliver environmental benefits worth more than £4 billion.