A rail system rigged in their favour - even when they kill us

29 May 2007

Last week the Network Rail executive ordered that 119 maintenance workers in Cumbria who were working near the scene of the Greyrigg train crash should not be paid their annual £400 staff bonus.

They also ruled that 400 signallers who took part in a 2-day strike in Scotland should only get a reduced bonus of £150, as punishment for striking.

Meanwhile, within hours of these announcements, NR chief executive, John Armitt, was shamelessly awarding himself a bonus of £210,000 and his deputy and successor, Ian Croucher £173,000. Two other directors got £133,000 each! This public company had just registered a record pre-tax profit of £1.5bn!

When the unions threatened strike action to defend their maintenance members, the Network Rail bosses said they would forego some of their bonuses until the report into the fatal Greyrigg crash came out.

But they have not paid the workers. In fact this withholding of railway workers' pay is unprecedented. The most contentious issue after fatal rail crashes in the past, was the fact that the bosses got off scott-free, not that workers did!

The workers have always been blamed - and punished - with train drivers actually going to jail! But not one boss has even been imprisoned. The most that has happened is that they were fined.

All this was meant to change when the Corporate Manslaughter Bill, promised 10 years ago by Blair's government, was enacted. But it has still not got onto the statute books. Obviously it is precisely the refusal by the government to change anything which might make bosses culpable, which has led to the delay. But even if it does get passed, it has been so watered down, it will do little to stop killer bosses from pressurising workers or subcontractors into cutting costs and therefore safety.

The report into the Greyrigg crash, which is due out in the summer, will expose the lack of rail safety inspections. We are told that this could lead to criminal charges against Network Rail managers under the Health and Safety Act. But which managers? The top NR executives, who are also the bosses of the private train companies? Somehow we don't think so.