'Inept' rail managers' feud adds 24m pounds to strike bill

THE TAXPAYER faces a multi-million-pound bill for the signalmen's pay strike as a result of top-level management feuding in the railway industry.

Railtrack, the state firm which employs the 4,500 signal staff, has agreed to repay the pounds 6m-a-day rent that British Rail operating companies have paid in advance to run their trains. Two one-day strikes have already been held and at least two more are scheduled.

A row over compensation for the rest of the money BR estimates it will lose for the four strike days has still to be settled.

Since Railtrack is still in the public sector, its losses will have to be financed by the taxpayer. BR's revenue shortfall is estimated at pounds 40m, leaving a loss of pounds 16m after Railtrack's compensation. The corporation said last night that it could not take on 'any consequential losses'.

Frank Dobson, Shadow Transport Secretary, last night denounced the 'Alice in Wonderland' economics of the railways as the industry is prepared for privatisation. 'It just shows how mad anybody would be to invest their money in a railway operating company,' he said. 'This perfectly demonstrates that the bulk of their costs are entirely beyond their control.'

Subsidies to the railways almost doubled to pounds 1.7bn this year, principally to pay for the rentals charged by Railtrack, which were doubled in April. BR managers are privately furious at the 'unbelievably inept' handling of the signal staff dispute by Railtrack, which insisted on taking over negotiations on a wage restructuring package in April 1993 - a full year before vesting day for the new state corporation.

Since then, apart from the 5.7 per cent 'non-offer', withdrawn before it was formally tabled, Railtrack has failed to reach a pay and productivity agreement with the rail union RMT. Proposals for reforming the wage structure were rejected out of hand last week by union negotiators on the grounds that many signal staff would be worse off.

Railtrack said yesterday that 75 per cent of signal staff would benefit from its proposals, and the remaining 25 per cent would be compensated.

No new peace talks are planned, and the conciliation service Acas appears to have washed its hands of the dispute. Two more strikes - one on Wednesday and one on the same day next week - will paralyse the system yet again.

Brian Wilson MP, Labour's transport spokesman, said the money being spent on compensating BR ought to be used to settle the dispute. 'This dispute would never have developed if BR was still a single entity with responsibility for negotiations.'

Labour should be proud to be the strikers' friend over the rail dispute, left-wing MP Peter Hain said yesterday. This was the epithet hurled at Margaret Beckett, the acting Labour leader, by the Prime Minister during angry Commons exchanges last week.

Mr Hain, MP for Neath, told a Tribune conference in London: 'This strike is democratic, legal and fully justified. Labour should back them to defeat the Government's dishonest disruption of a freely negotiated settlement.'

The strikers are forbidden from speaking to the press. The rule book of Railtrack makes clear that those speaking publicly will be disciplined, or even dismissed. Paragraph 1.13 of the rule book states: 'You must not make or issue a statement likely to be made public and which might damage the board's business.'

But Dennis, a signalman for more than a decade, agreed to speak - under the guise of a pseudonym.

He traced their discontent to the aftermath of the Clapham rail crash in 1988. 'That put the block on working excessive hours. It was not unusual for signalmen to work 90 hours a week, but Clapham, which was caused by excessively long hours and fatigue, brought everybody up short, including management, which had been happy about long overtime because it kept the basic rate down.

'Now people are beginning to work almost flat time, and they realise how low the basic rate is. That's why they leave the industry. Even with unemployment the way it is, there are still vacancies for signalmen.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
film
News
people
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Recruitment Genius: Conveyancing Fee Earner / Technical Support

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Fee Earner/Techn...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

£26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'