Friday, January 27, 2006

Off the rails!

South East Trains re-privatised

Keith Norman, head of the rail union ASLEF, says the government has “ignored its responsibilities to passengers, staff and the tax-payer” by re-privatising South East Trains.
Train operator Govia has been awarded an eight year franchise in an exercise costing the Department for Transport £3.85 million. Its first decision was to increase fares by 3% above inflation.
Norman described the move as “the politics of the madhouse and the economics of the asylum” and “a slap in the face for millions of commuters across the south-east of England”. The two years in public hands after Connex lost its franchise saw great improvements in South East Trains’ punctuality and profitability.
Norman pointed out that the Labour Party conference fully supported South East Trains staying in public hands. “Their decisions have been ignored, and the government’s real attitude towards public ownership has been revealed.
It seems the real policy is privatisation, pure and simple.”
A recent poll showed 72% of the public would like rail companies to revert to public control when franchises expire - demolishing the myth of British Rail’s appalling services.

Northern Line crisis could be end of line for tube PPP

The Northern Line, London underground’s busiest section, suffered a four-day shutdown in November as a direct result of carving the system up between ever more contractors with part-privatisation.
The crisis saw transport minister Alistair Darling, London’s mayor,
Transport for London (TfL), the head of London Underground and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), united in calling for French contractors Alstom to be sacked.
The shutdown happened when tripcock safety brakes were declared unsafe by RMT stewards after multiple failures.
They were backed by transport commissioner Bob Kiley and London Underground chief Tim O’Toole, while Alstom denied any threat to safety.
According to RMT head Bob Crow, Alstom opposed daily testing of the
‘failsafe’ brakes because the resulting delays would incur financial
For the first time London Underground issued an ‘emergency direction’,
ordering contractors Tube Lines (Alstom’s parent company) to speed up
repairs.Since then London Underground has effectively taken over safety maintenance on the Northern Line until the problems have been resolved.
Under the labyrinthine PPP system, TfL inspectors could only take action after four stages of legal action.
Dozens of lawyers had to plough through two million-word PPP contracts and the 18 volume PFI contract between Alstom and Tube Lines.
Following the crisis Bob Kiley and transport minister Alistair Darling gave TfL the green light to end Alstom’s contract. According to Darling,“no-one can regard the present situation as anything but unbelievably unsatisfactory”.
Incredibly even parent company Tube Lines warned Alstom that their PFI
arrangement was not working, no doubt worried about its share prices.
The crisis has raised the prospect that the ill-fated part privatisation will not last until 2032 after all.
The government may now opt for a similar solution to that following the
collapse of Railtrack, and the creation of publicly owned Network Rail.

How corruption was built in to underground contracts

Public-private partnership on the tube, one of the most convoluted deals ever made, has been described as a “gold-plated cash cow” for the
The contracts came complete with generous “success fees”, involve no risks, guarantee a huge income until 2032, and frequently change hands with huge profits made.
Construction firms Jarvis and Amey were floundering when they won their contracts and were saved by the PPP contracts, which became their main profit earners. Jarvis has sold its contract to Amey, which was then bought by a Spanish company.
The Metronet consortium running six tube lines plans to subcontract train maintenance to Bombardier, making front-line engineering staff redundant and leaving separate companies running its trains, track maintenance, and train maintenance.
The RMT’s Bob Crow says London’s mayor should be able to halt further
subcontracting. “No amount of fine-tuning can transform the PPP from a
vehicle for profit without responsibility into one that delivers
improvements safely and at reasonable cost.”
Meanwhile Ken Livingstone and transport commissioner Bob Kiley have operated public services superbly.
The Docklands Light Railway extension, East London line and Oyster card
ticketing, improvements to busses, and central London traffic reduction, are all on time and within budget.

Overcrowding + Delays = Higher Profits

The contractors pay high penalties for rush hour delays in central London. But early morning delays due to late engineering incur small fines, even though they cause knock-on delays throughout the morning rush hour.
So now we know: tube users suffer delays and crowding so that contractors can boost their lucrative profits.

Targets not met? Get paid anyway!

The contractors still get paid for work, even when it is not done. New
District Line trains are a year late, but Metronet has been paid.

The Victoria Line refurbishment, station renewal and track renewal are all late - but the contractors have already been paid!

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