Railway unions

Rail unions have an important role to play in representing thousands of workers across a variety of companies. They must be able to speak out – sometimes bluntly and sometimes to the discomfort of others.

However, with that right comes a dose of responsibility to speak without excess exaggeration. To my mind, RMT Acting General Secretary Mick Cash failed this test when he spoke in advance of Network Rail’s £53 million fine for Network Rail for missing performance targets.

Cash said: “The public need to be aware of the brutal fact that the fifty million pound performance fine expected to be levied on Network Rail this week will come straight out of safety critical maintenance and renewals budgets and diverted into the pockets of the greedy private train companies to finance wifi services on their trains. Safety and reliability on the tracks will be compromised with the rip-off train companies once again getting a free ride. This is a total con trick instigated by the Government that will come back to haunt the travelling public.”

I can’t see his rhetoric being at all helpful. That he’s exaggerating is clear when you consider that the fine is just 0.3% of NR’s maintenance and renewals budget of £17.4bn over the next five years. Further context comes from NR’s results for the 2013/14 year where the company returned a profit after tax of £1,256m, which the company said was all reinvested.

I’m not convinced by Cash’s claim of rip-off train companies. It’s generally accepted that profit margins for train operating companies are around 3%. For example, Stagecoach’s preliminary results for 2013/14 reveals a UK rail operating margin of 2.7%. This compares with 14.6% for its regional bus business. If there’s a public transport “rip-off” then I don’t think it’s from train operators.

Cash can be critical of NR and he can be critical of the company being fined for poor performance but his recent comments make former General Secretary Bob Crow sound like the voice of moderation.


By Philip Haigh

Freelance railway writer, former deputy editor at RAIL magazine - news, views and analysis of today's railway.

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