Bunhill: Ominous signal

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The Independent Online
I HAVE been somewhat confused these last few weeks by Railtrack's tactics in the current dispute with the signalmen, but after seeing an advertisement in the Northern Echo I confess to being completely bamboozled.

Railtrack has not only lambasted the signalmen, it has even hinted that it will sooner or later sack the lot of them unless they fall into line. But on the very day, last week, that this dire threat was issued, an advert appeared in the Echo inviting applications for the job of. . . signalman (or rather, signalperson since the advert is admirably non-sexist and non-racist).

'Railtrack is responsible for the ownership and operation of the nation's railway infrastructure,' it gushes. 'At its heart lies signalling, and its staff have a huge responsibility for getting passengers safely and efficiently to the destination.' Er, yes, when they're not on strike, anyway, and when Railtrack is not slagging them off.

'The North East Zone is seeking applications from vigilant individuals. . . to work in Darlington, Bishop Auckland and the Durham area,' the advert continues. Perhaps not surprisingly, pay is not mentioned but the perks are extravagant: successful applicants are promised 'free and reduced rate travel' - when they can find a train, presumably.

So what is Railtrack up to? Is this some subtle twist to its strike-breaking strategy, or sheer ineptitude? The answer to that one is probably pretty obvious, but there is always the possibility of something more sinister: has Railtrack already begun recruiting staff to replace the signalmen it hasn't even sacked yet?

Naturally, I rang them to ask. Unfortunately, no one at the switchboard answered the phone. . . .