Tube: Problems Underground

Issue section: 
(271)

Years of underfunding combined with New Labour's obsession with privatisation are to blame for the near disaster when a London Underground train derailed at Chancery Lane last month.

The RMT and Aslef have been warning for years that the disasters we've witnessed on the privatised national rail network will replicate themselves on the tube. Both unions have also taken industrial action over the issue of safety and privatisation. Staff have been reporting suspect motors--the cause of the Chancery Lane incident--for a long time. Indeed last year there was a similar derailment at Loughton.

Blair tells us that privatisation will bring in much needed funding for the tube. It's certainly true we need billions, but where's the money going? Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been handed over to private companies like Amey to keep them afloat so that they are in a financial position to sign the contracts in the spring.

The tube has been running as a 'shadow PPP' as if it were already privatised. JNP Lines (Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly) were handed over to the privateers over Xmas. BCV lines (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria) and SSL lines (Sub Surface Levels, ie District, Metropolitan, Circle, and Hammersmith and City) are due to be handed over in the spring. Performance targets must be met or else the companies face financial penalties. Instead of a guard on every train we have 'station assistants' on platforms. While the guards' role was to ensure the safe exit and boarding of passengers, the 'station asssistants'' role is to get the train moving on as fast as possible to reduce 'dwell time'.

It's not just the government and London Underground management that are at fault. Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) has to take responsibility as well. All train operating companies must provide a 'Safety Case' to HMRI. The Underground's Safety Case for the PPP scheme was co-authored by Mark Brown of HMRI, who was appointed by the government. He has since left HMRI to become the director of safety for Tubelines, the group which includes Jarvis, that has just taken over the JNP lines.

This is the same safety body that told the unions that, other than the 22 stations with lifts on the underground, the tube could continue to run safely in the event of a firefighters' strike. And George Bain, the man who wants to cut the fire service, sits as a director on the board of Bombardier, one of the private firms lined up to profit from PPP and owner of ABB, the firm that supplied the trains now used on the Central Line.

We are constantly told the tube is safer than other means of transport. But how safe do you feel safe in the hands of the privateers?