13 June 2022
With UK Rail strikes planned later this month over pension and job losses, we asked your view if it was good or bad for the long-term sustainability of our network. Here's what you had to say.
The UK's Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) has declared three days of walkouts in June over job losses and pensions. In what is expected to disrupt 80% of mainline rail services on June 21, 23 and 25, and have knock-on consequences for days either side owing to trains not being in the correct locations, the stance has drawn significant attention in the national press, amid passenger concerns.
Interested in the thoughts of railway enthusiasts, we asked our Facebook social media followers if they felt this was good or bad for the long-term sustainability of our network.
Private or 'all' state-owned?
"Many of the European railways are state run and heavily invested in by their governments, said one commentator. "The Train Operating Companies do not even own their rolling stock but lease it. Unless we have a unified approach where govt. invests in a decent rail system it will always be a fragmented hotchpotch."
Another poster in a reply said, "It wouldn’t make much sense for them to own the rolling stock when they only have the franchise for a fixed period, before possibly losing out to another company. We have a silly mix of state-owned tracks and private companies operating services and stations. Personally, I think it should be one or the other, either have it all state owned and run, or privatise it all."
A further poster added, "Then state owned it is. Don't know if you're aware of this but BR received the second lowest subsidiary in Europe. That it cost £400m to privatise BR and not a penny actually went to BR. At the time, £400m would have modernised the west coast mainline."
It seems the private versus publicly-operated debate figured heavily, with one poster adding, "Our railways were built by private money, run by private companies for over 100 years. Small lines were kept open as the big railway companies looked at overall profits, not a line by line basis, and these smaller lines fed to busier lines, bigger stations, overall passenger movement, and before the rise of cheap road transport after WWII, and the rise of the private car, proved useful for freight movement and goods delivery."
Meanwhile, turning attention to the continent, another poster, said, "I travel by rail in Germany pretty regularly and compared to their rail system, ours is an embarrassment. Many may have seen it in the news but for the summer months, Germany has a 9€ month long season ticket, travel anywhere in Germany for an entire month for 9€!!"
A Network Rail employee's view
We put the question to a Network Rail employee who said, "I’ve been a union member for most of my working life, but I've never been on strike before. Network Rail wants to make more maintenance reactionary rather than proactive, leading to job losses and potential safety issues. And we don’t want a return to Railtrack levels of maintenance, do we?"
The employee continued, "Most staff have had no pay increment or bonus for three years. The bonus is based on rail performance, and dates back to BR days and is entirely separate to pay. Yes, it will cause inconvenience and problems, but unless some action is taken, they will sit on the fence and prevaricate or carry on saying "there’s no money."
"There’s a massive financial hole in Network Rail which I think they’re trying to patch before Great British Railways. It doesn’t help that the CEO [of Network Rail] is the third highest-paid civil servant and earns more than the PM and the Governor of the Bank of England. And, he took a pay cut from the previous incumbent!", they added.
For some rail users and the general public, dissecting small snippets of information from both sides highlighted in the national media and better understanding examples of positions from the parties involved isn't easy, as one poster highlighted:
"There are many misconceptions about railway finance, and these make the facts hard to find", he said. "For instance, when the unions talk about massive profits, they generally include the profits from all the company's activities, to which rail alone adds minimal amounts. Dividends are the payment shareholders receive for providing capital, and the rates of return are generally smaller than in many sectors. Much of the rail workforce has benefitted immensely from pay rises since privatisation, but there are still low paid areas – and these are the only ones mentioned. The agreements on rest day working were made with the unions, as they can mean extra rates for working on those days; the point at issue is actually replacing those days with a flexible roster."
Though opinion varied, it appeared that there was general dissatisfaction among followers in the current setup, something which Government and unions will need to address if the planned rebrand to state-owned 'Great British Railways' is to be a success.
Not subscribed to World-of-Railways Plus yet? Don't miss great magazine archive content from Traction, Garden Rail, Engineering in Miniature and BRM magazines, plus bonus videos, trackplans, member-only competitions and RMweb Plus. See more here.