Mick Cash: Rail vandals operate out of Westminster

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MY union has long argued that lack of investment in transport impacts unfairly on the poorest and most vulnerable, cutting them off from assistance and society in general.

Now a new report from the Commons Transport Committee has revealed that this isolation has spread from the rural communities hammered by attacks on bus services to our towns and cities as well.

The report, Passenger Transport In Isolated Communities, said: “Policy makers sometimes equate ‘isolated communities’ with ‘rural communities’, but we found that isolated communities also exist in urban and suburban areas.”

It added: “We recognise the importance of community transport, but believe that central government and local authorities are being unrealistic if they expect voluntary community transport projects to compensate for decreased bus services.”

This damning report shows that savage cuts to bus services, and the high costs of other forms of transport, are condemning some of the most vulnerable members of our society to lives of total isolation and misery.

It highlights once again the huge gulf between the lives of the well-heeled political elite and those who are the real victims of their policies. Transport poverty is just another shocking indictment of the reality of life in today’s Britain.

The RMT, which has been leading the fight against cuts to bus services, is also deeply concerned that rising rail fares and cuts to services, such as those mapped out in the consultation on the future of the Northern and TransPennine franchises, will make a dire situation even worse.

Axing of ticket offices, sacking of guards and removal of station staff on rail franchises makes essential transport services a no-go area for many older people, women travelling at night and people with disabilities, regardless of where they live.

In the rail industry it is the unions, supported by our communities, who have led the fight to end the racketeering of the privatised franchise system. And, as the Government’s McNulty Rail Review report is being rolled out, everything that RMT has warned of is coming at us with a vengeance.

Northern Rail and TransPennine Express are just the latest franchises to expand driver-only operation while also increasing fares, reducing ticket office opening times, cutting jobs and flagging up possible “alliancing” between franchisees and Network Rail.

On top of this, it is clear that rolling stock and investment are being shipped south to maximise profits on other lucrative franchises that are closer to the homes of the political elite driving this rail austerity programme.

Meanwhile the North is being systematically robbed of capacity despite surging demand. The Government’s message to the public is clear – “pay more to travel on overcrowded, unstaffed 
trains where your safety is reduced to a lottery”.

It is clear that the full force of the McNulty cuts programme is being unleashed in an exercise that would slash jobs, destroy safety and axe ticket offices and other passenger services while allowing fares and profits to soar through the roof.

This scandal was compounded by the news that the Scottish sleeper service had been handed to Serco on a 15-year franchise worth £800m.

This is despite the fact that Serco is currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office in relation to public contracts and was once banned by the Government from being awarded any further work.

Even SNP Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown has admitted that the Scottish government has no choice in the matter as, under EU rules, the tender had to go with who wins the bid and “the best bid came from Serco”.

RMT is gearing up for a political, industrial and public campaign to stop this act of savage vandalism to rail services across the North and into Scotland dead in its tracks.

The only answer to this continuing rail chaos is public ownership and an end to the greed and profiteering of these parasites.

Immediate plans should be put in place for a public takeover of Northern Rail, similar to the public rescue of East Coast Main Line, as the only way of preventing a total collapse and providing a decent public service.

• Mick Cash is acting general secretary of the RMT rail union.