A message from a retired but formerly active trade unionist

A number of trade unions published a letter in the Guardian last Saturday. Here is a personal response from another trade unionist.

Letter to The Guardian 20 September 2013-09-23 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/20/nhs-back-on-track.

They say ….We say …..
As the representatives of employees in the rail industry we know better than most that the existing rail network is operating at near full capacity.1. This is naive scaremongering and it additionally hides the key question behind the social injustice of HS2 – is the route of HS2 the area the MOST suffers from capacity problems? Is it the priority? Across the UK some parts are running under capacity; other sections at some times of day are very over-capacity; but neither the London to Birmingham route nor the capacity of Euston station, are the worst capacity problems. In general the worst problems are commuter not long distance services. We have to wonder at why the unions are supporting this huge HS2 subsidy to lower priority issues. Social justice? Nah. Part of a strategic approach to transport? Nah. Best way to invest £43 billion to get most jobs? Nah, not at £430,000 per job.

2. Long distance demand figures are now declining; The Government barely notes the impact of business policy to reduce travel; and shouldn’t we be discussing the management of demand over the next 50 years rather than crude ‘predict and provide’?

3. Many nationwide points of horrendous over -capacity will not be addressed because £43 billion will be spent on HS2. You can want both, but you won’t get both. Not even from a Labour Government. So what do you want – a One Nation approach of investment right across the UK, or everything spent on one mega scheme that will favour travel by the richest to London?

4. If you really cared, the capacity problem at Euston, and London to Birmingham, could be rapidly improved by simple means eg changing the timing of cheap tickets and by switching 1st class carriages to 2nd class. Doing this? Nah!

5. If the capacity crisis is in freight then what is needed is a rail line designed primarily to serve the needs of freight – not the current ‘bolt on’ hope that HS2 will allow freight to expand on other lines. Even the Chairman of the Rail Freight Group doesn’t buy the freight proposals underlying HS2.

6. HS2 will be completed in 2033 to the North.  Does this feel like a serious concern for the capacity crises all around the country NOW? Nope!

Neither new motorways nor domestic air travel alone are sustainable options to meet the mobility requirements of a British population expected to grow by 10 million by 2033.1. Agreed, motorways and air are not sustainable transport. But neither is HS2 because of its design speed. Why do you think the Green Party are against HS2? Why do you think the Government were told not to refer to HS2 as a sustainable project?

2. The rail investment plans that are an alternative to HS2 precisely focus on ways that we could address both capacity and sustainability.

3. HS2 will spend £43billion that will do NOTHING to improve our carbon reduction targets. Does that feel like something that unions should be defending when there are alternatives? The biggest ever investment in transport – that will do nothing for our carbon targets?????

4. Sustainability is a key environmental concern – but so is the environmental damage that HS2 will cause because, in order to maximise speed, it will go in straight lines that destroy ancient woodland, SSSIs, AONB etc. If you are concerned about sustainability in the wider sense, HS2 is a bad option. It was designed for speed. 400kph. Whatever the Minister says. It is designed for speed not capacity. That’s why it doesn’t stop in a lot of places DOH!

We regret the absence of a national transport strategy from the current and previous governments, and believe the development of a high-speed rail network must be at the heart of Labour’s transport policy and its future vision for the economic health of this country1. Agreed – we desperately need a national transport strategy.

2. But given that we don’t have one, isn’t it a bit previous to conclude that HS must be at the heart of Labour’s transport policy?

3. And particularly, shouldn’t we wait to see where the expansion of London’s airports will go before we build HS2? It is hardly an integrated network if we spend £43Billion failing to connect to London’s main hub airport.

We welcome the Labour party conference’s support for HS2 this week and applaud the party’s pledge to scrap HS2 Ltd and hand over the project to Network Rail to ensure the new line is properly integrated into the existing rail network.1. It is difficult to reconcile union support for Labour’s policy on HS2 – which is basically ‘go faster, we need it sooner even though it is on the wrong route and being mismanaged’ – with your request that the project should be handed over to another developer (which would lose time).

2. Agreed – HS2 Ltd have made a dog’s breakfast of the whole management and design of HS2, and it would be great if Network Rail did a better job.

3. But here is the next problem – you seem unaware that within the current HS2 scheme the Labour Party could not reverse the things that prevent HS2 from being “properly integrated into the existing rail network.” HS2 falls at 5 hurdles. It’s design – such as the lack of intermediate stations – emphasises it’s ‘stand alone’ character; the current business case relies on £7billion of cuts from existing rail services – the reverse of investing to integrate HS2 with other regional or local services; the costs of local integration eg tram services to the out-of-centre HS2 stations or more parking, are additional to the costs for HS2 so although job claims assume this additional spending, the business case disregards it (nice one!) – the money for integrating HS2 with the rest of the network is not on the table; the out-of-centre stations mean that passenger integration across the whole network will be really poor; and the possibility of light freight integration potentially from HS2 across rail services will be miniscule.

We urge Labour’s conference to examine all models for the running of HS2’s rail operations, including not-for-profit optionsHere is the ‘big one’: current EU policy, signed up to by the UK, is that the governance of Core routes (which include HS2) will be taken out of national control and given to an EU commissioner. Of course the UK will be a stakeholder in that governance but the whole point of this policy will be to ensure that Core routes are developed and operated on the basis of long distance EU priorities, not UK policy and priorities. Of course we have to address issues of inter-operability across the EU but this new phase of the ‘interoperability’ of governance is something else altogether. So the integration of HS2 into the rest of the UK network will be secondary to the integration of HS2 into EU priorities. In Tallinn in October, the EU will be taking the legislative base for this to the next step. Political commentators across the EU suggest that one of the key reasons for this is precisely in order to stymie the last vestiges of nationalised rail systems across the EU. Unless the Unions stop the EU policy in its tracks, the Labour Party have no hope of even deciding on contracting, pricing, staffing etc of HS2 let alone a ‘not for profit’ trajectory.
and urge Labour to ensure the line is built, and delivered, in a way that maximises UK jobs, training, and apprenticeshipsYes, yes, and yes – but see above regarding control over the delivery of HS2. Hopefully Rail Unions have clocked that the move is to get rid of rail jobs – tickets, porters, and skilled drivers. And with regard to its building, the second reason that political commentators across the EU give for the move to EU governance of Core routes, is so that private capital can rid itself of national controls and regulations. That includes ridding itself of Labour Party wish lists.
Mick Whelan Aslef, 

Bob Crow RMT, 

Manuel Cortes TSSA, 

Frances O’Grady TUC, 

Diana Holland Unite

So this finale is addressed directly to union members, who may have the ability to see beyond Tory propaganda: To sum up, HS2 is a VERY expensive dog’s breakfast. It is socially regressive leading to subsidies for the richest. Its case relies on downgrading of rail services elsewhere by £7 billion and downgrading areas that will not be near a station so that they will experience job losses.  It is tackling lower not the highest priority issues on the rail network so as an approach to strategic planning it is laughable. It has been pushed through in ways that avoid democracy and the current game plan, supported by Labour, is clearly that so much will have been spent before the Hybrid Bill that no politician will dare say no – the same game plan behind the disastrous Stuttgart HSR policy – the rail unions here should at least know about the widespread union opposition to that! HS2 is a hugely wasteful way to create any jobs or regional growth. It is justified on the basis of ‘research’ that has been torn to shreds across a wide and independent spectrum including Parliamentary bodies. It relies on trashing and ridiculing opposition but goes blind when a reasoned case is made. The costs will be paid four times over by the public – once by using their taxes; twice by not compensating private or community losses including social housing;  thrice by utilising Eurobonds that leave the debt in public hands; and fourthly, by using taxation to subsidise the continued running of the line. And that’s before we begin to discuss the contents of that dog’s breakfast – the management of HS2 Ltd.

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One comment to “A message from a retired but formerly active trade unionist”
  1. Freight and passenger rail systems continue to be at the forefront of economic development as well as the trend towards commuter rail as a more sustainable method of transportation. There should be a proper inspection and audit done before taking any major steps, and even we should take into consideration that is it necessary to invest such a whooping amount of 43 billion pounds. With proper planning and considering people’s convenience , the major authorities should come up with a wise plan which makes the masses happy.

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