Privatisation leads to `more rail crime'

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The Independent Online

Transport Correspondent

A warning that rail privatisation is leading to an increased level of crime on the railway network was issued by the HM Inspectors of Constabulary yesterday.

The inspector who carried out the investigation into the performance of the British Transport Police, Peter Winship, warns that the recent changes in the railway have led to an increase in crime and a worse clear- up rate.

His report says that both senior managers and BTP officers "drew a direct link between the increase in crime, together with the reduced number of detections, and some of the changes that had occurred within the railway industry".

These changes include the "withdrawal of staff from stations, open access to railway premises, the increasing use of driver-only trains and the reluctance of rail staff to `patrol' some late-night services". Mr Winship says that because of the reduced level of staffing, there are fewer witnesses to crimes and therefore less chance of catching the culprits. Many of these changes result from the drive to reduce subsidy to the railways in the run-up to privatisation.

Rail privatisation has also hindered anti-crime initiatives by the BTP because many different and uncoordinated parts of the rail industry are involved. Mr Winship says: "Rail privatisation will undoubtedly impact on joint initiatives . . . Under the new privatised structure, there is evidence of increasing parochialism as railway businesses, understandably, look for more localised business-specific initiatives."

Mr Winship also suggests that rail privatisation may be distorting the priorities of the police. He commends the BTP for its effective marketing, but says that while "the needs of the railway businesses understandably feature prominently in the Force priorities", the BTP needs to pay more attention to the needs of the public, both travelling and local.

n Railtrack came under fire today for telling its own staff not to travel by rail to business meetings.

The 10,000-strong workforce will be urged from tomorrow to use other means of transport instead, including private cars.

Staff will also lose travel passes which have been issued by British Rail for years before the controversial privatisation of the industry.

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union described the cost saving measure as "bizarre" and said it will be pressing for urgent talks with the company which owns the UK's rail stations as well as tracks and signalling.