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

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Personal Finance Editor: Cutting out the middle man could spell disaster for employees and consumers alike

Simon Read
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch  

Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes tell you what to think. Don't let them

Memphis Barker
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week