Branson goes loco over Aslef leader

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The Independent Online
WHAT LINKS Sir John Betjeman, the Duke of Wellington, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Peter Pan and Lew Adams, head of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen? Answer: they all have railway engines named after them.

Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group, has taken the unusual step of naming one of his much-maligned locomotives after the Aslef leader. Mr Branson, politically close to but never clearly identified with New Labour, today dubs one of his locomotives "Lew Adams - The Black Prince".

Mr Adams is withdrawing prematurely from the leadership of his union after being defeated in an election by his "Scargillite" rival. Once regarded as a hard-left firebrand, he was branded "The Black Prince" by the Daily Mail.

He was ousted by Dave Rix, who was a candidate for Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party in the last election. He is thought to have won members' backing because of Mr Adams's perceived closeness to Mr Branson and because the pay- and-hours deals he struck with train companies were regarded as flawed. In fact, Mr Adams secured a two-hour cut in the working week in return for salaries of pounds 20,000-plus a year, but conceded that drivers should work more intensively.

He also struck a deal with Mr Branson to set up a joint venture to prepare recruits for the industry. All this failed to impress members, but it struck a chord with Mr Branson.

Mr Adams was noticeably reluctant this week to blame Virgin Rail for the delay to a train taking delegates to the Labour Party conference in Blackpool. That was mostly the fault of Railtrack, he said.

Loyalist Aslef officials point out that Mr Adams was a great servant of the industry for 40 years and that union members would rue the day when they elected the militant Mr Rix.

The last rail union leader to lend his name to a locomotive was W P Allen, general secretary of Aslef until 1947. He "went over" to the management side and became a member of the national executive that ran the network.

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