Rail funding cuts increase risk of major accidents on the network, TUC says
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Network Rail’s plans to slash funding for the UK’s railways increases the risk of crashes and other accidents on the network, a report by the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) has said.
Network Rail plans to cut annual expenditure by £100m, mainly through the loss of 2,500 rail maintenance jobs. A previously unpublished analysis of Network Rail data by the RMT union found that this could lead to 670,000 fewer hours of maintenance work annually.
The cuts come after a Spending Review from the Chancellor at the end of 2020 that saw Network Rail’s budget cut by £1bn for the 2019-2024 period, down nearly 10 per cent on the £10.4bn for the previous five-year period.
In its latest report, the TUC said it was impossible to make those cuts without losing many safety-critical jobs.
Network Rail responsibilities include track maintenance and maintaining signals to ensure trains are on time and prevent collisions as well as ensuring a consistent electricity supply to the network
The TUC expressed concern that the Department for Transport’s (DfT) demand for cuts signifies its intention to reduce public funding for rail services and, with ticket revenue still not fully recovered from the pandemic, this could lead to the end of many rail services across the UK.
It called for ministers to protect rail services while passenger levels continue their recovery from the pandemic, arguing that a network with greater capacity and more services is essential to the future strength of the UK economy and to reaching net-zero emissions.
The report also suggests that Network Rail could save £115m a year by bringing its outsourced services back in-house in order to undertake “vital renewals” such as replacing end-of-life tracks.
It also calls for the creation of a single public-owned operator that integrates all train services under one body, including tracks, rolling stock and train services.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want good transport links for our community, with frequent, safe, reliable and affordable trains.
“But if the Network Rail cuts go ahead it will mean the loss of safety-critical jobs and a greater risk of serious accidents like Stonehaven, Potters Bar and Hatfield.
“Ministers must not risk passenger safety through funding cuts to Network Rail.”
On rail funding and reaching net-zero emissions, she added: “We all want to reach net-zero and stop climate chaos, and rail is one of the greenest ways to get around. Ministers need to make rail the most attractive option for more journeys. But you can’t do that by cutting back on safety and services. We need to build a bigger and better rail service.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “Safety remains a top priority for all parties including government and employers. The industry is exploring a range of reform options but none of these should lead to the reduction of safety standards nor impact the railways’ safety for passengers. Industry will still have to fulfil their legal obligations in respect of health and safety.
“We want a reliable railway with fewer delays and disruptions without impacting the safety of passengers or workers.”
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