Railtrack must learn to balance passengers, profits and safety

Share

Rarely can an organisation have switched from complacency to panic quite as rapidly as Railtrack has managed in the days since the Hatfield crash. For years, it would seem, the company ignored all those trains passing signals at danger, refused to deal with the broken tracks and failed to acknowledge that its first responsibility must be to instil a culture of safety on the railways. Until now, that is. Now, we find that nothing, but nothing, must be allowed to stand in the path of Railtrack's new zeal to put the passenger first - even the passengers themselves, who find themselves stranded as services are cancelled for emergency work.

Rarely can an organisation have switched from complacency to panic quite as rapidly as Railtrack has managed in the days since the Hatfield crash. For years, it would seem, the company ignored all those trains passing signals at danger, refused to deal with the broken tracks and failed to acknowledge that its first responsibility must be to instil a culture of safety on the railways. Until now, that is. Now, we find that nothing, but nothing, must be allowed to stand in the path of Railtrack's new zeal to put the passenger first - even the passengers themselves, who find themselves stranded as services are cancelled for emergency work.

There would be nothing reprehensible about that were it really the case that Railtrack executives had undergone some sort of Damascene conversion and decided, at last, to put safety before profit. We doubt that, however. At first, Gerald Corbett, the chief executive of Railtrack, appeared genuinely contrite when he offered his resignation after the loss of life at Hatfield. It was the right thing to do. Equally, the Railtrack board was right to refuse to accept his offer, and all sides acknowledged the efforts that Mr Corbett had made to get to work on the massive task of making up for decades of underinvestment. But endless public relations stunts since then, featuring the chief executive, suggest that Railtrack has been more interested in improving its damaged reputation and image than anything else.

Similarly, we cannot help but wonder if the latest decision to inflict chaos on passengers for months to come by introducing speed limits and closing whole stretches of track is motivated much more by the company's wish to carry out planned work at its own convenience, during the day rather than overnight or at weekends, when the disruption to passengers would be much less. And if the work really is so urgent that it cannot wait for a few hours, then we are, at the very least, entitled to ask why Railtrack allowed such a lethal state of affairs to persist for weeks or months before taking action. Railtrack itself seems to be less than clear about that, insisting in its statement yesterday both that "the west-coast line is safe" and that "we felt the tests were necessary sooner rather than later".

The important contradiction, however, remains where it has always lain - between the interests of passengers and taxpayers (now stumping up another £5bn for safety) on one side, and Railtrack's shareholders on the other. There is a balance to be struck between those two legitimate sets of interests, but the chaos on the railways suggests that we are no nearer to finding it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Grange Retirement Home: Full Time Care Team Manager

£22,400: The Grange Retirement Home: This is a key role which requires a sound...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Inequality in Britain – a defence of the mansion tax

John Rentoul
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada