Rail unions welcome Welsh government’s railway commitments

Carwen JonesRail unions have welcomed the Welsh government’s commitment to employ more staff on the principality’s trains as part of the new franchise deal.

After consulting with rail unions and the Wales TUC Welsh First Minister Carwen Jones today announced: “Our hard working railway staff are a major asset in delivering a modern and safe railway. It is right that they are central to our ambitious plans for the new Wales & Border Services and South Wales Metro.

“These are progressive commitments that will mean a better service for passengers and a better railway in Wales, and I look forward to this positive dialogue continuing as we develop our plans.”

The plans include:

  • An expectation of more staff employed on the franchise
  • A safety critical conductor (guard) on all trains and services
  • Heavy rail infrastructure outside of core valleys lines will remain with Network Rail
  • Working with the unions around their aspirations for ticket office and station staff
  • “If future legislation allows”, for the service to be part of a UK national integrated railway under public ownership

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “We welcome these commitments. We also commend the Welsh government for recognising the importance of consulting with the rail unions. Our members are the people who deliver the service on a daily basis and their voice must always be heard when deciding how the industry moves forward.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The First Minister’s welcome commitment to keep a guard on every train is a breakthrough for our campaign against driver only trains and for our campaign for a safe, secure and accessible railway, not only in Wales but nationwide.

“Our policy is for a national integrated railway under public ownership and we will continue to campaign for that objective.  We note that this is also the aspiration of the Welsh Government who are operating within the legislative constraints imposed by Westminster.

‎”Within that legislative straight jacket however it is welcome that we have been able to engage in very positive and constructive discussions with the First Minster who has made an important set of commitments to protect the jobs and conditions of rail workers in Wales which will now underpin further detailed discussions.”

But the TSSA took a different view, with organising director Lorraine Ward saying: “On the face of it increasing devolution of transport powers from the Department for Transport to the Welsh Government does sounds like a no-brainer. But, whilst the Tories are still controlling the purse strings and get to decide how much money they trickle down to TfW, devolution for devolution’s sake may not be in the interests of Wales, rail safety nor represent good value for taxpayers right now.

“The Welsh Government is currently, quite rightly in a very public dispute with the DfT about funding – not only has the DfT cancelled Great Western route electrification between Cardiff and Swansea, they have also refused to pass on money paid by the franchisee as track access charges that should go to Network Rail (as the Network Grant) for infrastructure maintenance.

“Transport Secretary Chris Grayling showed this summer that frankly he doesn’t give a stuff about Tory Party Manifesto pledges made to Wales. And whilst we are completely in tandem with the Welsh Government’s aspirations to take back control of Welsh rail into public ownership, it is not yet clear that powers have actually been transferred to the Welsh Government.

“Whilst Welsh Assembly ministers have proceeded on the basis transport devolution is inevitable for several years now and have set up Transport for Wales (TfW), run consultations about the Wales and Borders franchise and specified the extent of the franchise and inviting tenders, the Tories still aren’t coughing up the dosh. TSSA is therefore concerned that Transport for Wales is running before it can walk and today’s proposals are premature.

“We are also concerned that they have not ruled out breaking up Network Rail in Wales, which will fragment rail security and safety and is considered so controversial that even though it’s on the Tory rail privatisation wish-list, even Tories have not dared to pursue this reckless strategy.

“This detail is not the stuff of sexy headlines, but it is the stuff of serious rail safety, future planning and job security that mustn’t be compromised by a hasty, rushed and unthought through devolution deals. TSSA will now consult with our members across Wales before making any further response on today’s proposals.

“But, we would also point out that should Jeremy Corbyn be elected Prime Minister, Labour’s 2017 Manifesto For The Many has pledged to create the conditions in which the Welsh Government could indeed take back the keys to Welsh railway systems and invest in it via the new national and regional investment bank that will be created to reboot infrastructure spending and building in Wales.”

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