As unions prepare to shut down the rail network for most of next week, I’m worried they’re digging their own graves.
Actually, let me rephrase that. I’m not worried about the RMT and Aslef. I’m worried they’re taking the railroad – and their members’ jobs – down with them.
Before Covid, almost two-thirds of rail travelers were commuters and business travellers. And they paid high fares, making them an even bigger part of the railroad’s revenue.
It is now obvious to everyone but the unions that these passengers and their money are not all coming back.
why would you Commuting is miserable.
Who wants to stand face to arm for two hours a day, barely see their children and pay £4,000 a year to do it?
Do it the Victorian way
Companies need to save money. So why send people hundreds of miles for a half-hour meeting when you can do it with Zoom?
But the RMT’s Mick Lynch said last year that Covid was a “smoke screen” being used to attack the “lifestyles” of its members.
And while the rest of the world has changed, railroad unions are on strike to defend labor practices not only before the pandemic but since the steam age.
Practices that not only waste money the railroad doesn’t have, but degrade services and make the network less secure.
In the modern world, you can use sophisticated cameras and sensors on trains to check tracks for faults. But unions are on strike to keep doing it the Victorian way, with people walking along the live track.
Dozens of these employees are injured or killed by trains every year. It is also more dangerous for the passengers. A railway worker’s Mk I eyeball misses hairline cracks and flaws in the track that a sensor would detect.
Even in the modern world, the days when you had to wait ten minutes at a ticket counter to get a piece of cardboard are almost gone. Almost 90 percent of passengers shop online, contactless or automatically.
The ten quietest offices in the network are now selling an average of one card per day. The quietest of them all sold 17 tickets in three months! But unions are on strike to keep selling tickets like they did in the 1950s, with staff stuck behind glass doing nothing when they could be on platforms to help people.
Losing passengers means two things.
First, the railroad is on taxpayer life support. In the year to April, including infrastructure investments as well as subsidized services, the railway cost taxpayers £22.6 billion, 71 per cent of all central government spending on transport, despite handling only 9 per cent of journeys.
With pandemic and war driving up demand for the NHS, the military and help with energy bills, we cannot afford to continue spending so much on one of the few services for which demand has fallen.
Second, fewer passengers means less clout. Although this disruption can shut down Christmas for millions of families and businesses, many more of us can work or shop from home if necessary.
This is one of the reasons why the strikes have dragged on. Most people can live with that. Most people in the UK don’t travel much by train. And even most rail passengers now have other options forced upon them by unions.
If this continues, the railroad itself will be the main casualty. It is gradually being crushed between prohibitive costs, falling subsidies and even more passengers fleeing because the network cannot provide reliable service.
Unions must accept reforms
Maybe there is no other Dr. Beeching, Chairman of the Railways Board, whose report led to the cancellation of a third of the routes in the early 1960s, 1,300 miles. But there will be a 1970s-style decline, with major timetable cuts and the loss of many rail jobs.
To avoid this tragedy, everyone must take a step back. The ministers have sensibly tried to de-dramatize the conflict. And four percent, the offer on the table, won’t be enough to settle it.
But there is more money – and the promise of no redundancies – in exchange for reform.
Unions must accept that they will not make it to inflation-matched growth and agree on reform as the only way to protect services.
I understand people are being squeezed by inflation. But railway workers are paid pretty well. And a big salary increase without reforms that will cost them their jobs in a few years is not a big result for them either.
- Andrew Gilligan was Boris Johnson’s transport adviser when he was Prime Minister and is now a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/6834640/move-on-from-steam-age-mick-lynch-railways/ Get out of the steam age, Mick Lynch, or you’ll ruin our railroads forever