JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first, Potters Bar,
at least we now have a pretty good idea of what caused that train to come
off the rails - a problem with the points - but that raises a number of
questions, some of them for the politicians to answer. The Transport Secretary,
Stephen Byers said this morning that it was a one off accident 'a unique
event' and there's plenty of money for repairs and maintenance - is all
The Liberal Democrat spokesman
is Don Foster and he's in our Bristol studio, but let's turn first to two
rail industry experts. The author and journalist Christian Wolmar and the
Director General of the Association of Train Operating Companies, George
Christian Wolmar, what
wide lessons are there to be learned from this, let's look at the structure
of the railways first.
CHRISTIAN WOLMAR: Well, I think we shouldn't jump
to any conclusions. There's two possible causes for this, one is sabotage,
in which case there's no lessons to be learned, it is just a terrible thing,
HUMPHRYS: Just deal with that one
very quickly first of all and we'll get rid of it, because most people
seem to think it's a pretty wild guess. Could a couple of drunken yobs
done that damage or would you need to have a pretty skilled knowledge and
a lot of effort.
WOLMAR: No, it's not vandalism,
it's sabotage and I use that word advisedly and that's because it would
take some effort and a little bit of knowledge about the rail industry.
You'd also need a very big spanner and quite a lot of physical effort,
it couldn't be done in a couple of minutes. So it's not vandalism but it
could quite easily be sabotage.
HUMPHRYS: But there's no obvious
reason why that should have happened?
WOLMAR: No, but I mean there are
a lot of crazy people around, who do a lot of crazy things as you know
HUMPHRYS: But as you say, no lessons
to be learned from that. So let's look at the wider implications, possible
WOLMAR: Now, if this is down to
maintenance, then it really is trouble again for the rail industry because
only eighteen months ago we had an accident five miles down the track,
where there...it was caused by a broken rail and that was down to faulty
maintenance and people ignoring that broken rail for quite a long time,
finally snapped, killed four people. So, if we have the same kind of accident
five miles down the track, eighteen months later, also caused by faulty
maintenance, it raises the whole question again about how the industry
is structured and having all these contractors and sub-contractors on the
industry, whereas before we had British Rail and a unified structure.
HUMPHRYS: So is that what we are
talking about, the separation of the people who operate the trains, from
the people who take care of the track, that's the big issue as far as you
WOLMAR Absolutely, the key point
about privatisation was not only that it sold off the railways to the private
sector, but in a way the most damaging thing it did was to fragment the
railway and to break it up and railways need a unified system. You need
to have somebody at the top basically giving orders, it's like a military
operation. The best run railways in the world are places like Switzerland
and Japan where they do have a unified structure. Of course you occasionally
use contractors, but here they rely on contractors so much and that would
be put in question again.
HUMPHRYS: Right, George Muir, do
you agree with that? As the man who speaks for the train operating companies.
GEORGE MUIR: Well just now I'm still trying
to get my mind round the horrific feature of this accident and what does
seem to be this extraordinary sort of one off circumstances of two nuts
not being where they should be. Now, if it is a question of faulty maintenance,
I would like to get away from the debate as to structure because I..
HUMPHRYS: But it might be crucial
to do, as Christian Wolmar said.
MUIR: Indeed it might be
but I think it's in danger of being a fundamental distraction because whatever
the structure is, whether everybody is employed by one employer or by two
or by three or by more, eventually there's got to be good trained people
doing the job. Whether the person who does the job is employed by British
Rail or by Jarvis, they've got to do the job.
HUMPHRYS: That's fine but what
Christian Wolmar is talking about is a line of command here and that's
the important thing. Would the train operating companies, if the political
decision were taken that perhaps there ought to be a reunified railway,
would the train operating companies be interested in that?
MUIR: I think it's a distraction.
I can't say that it would be better or worse but I don't think that's a
solution to the issue. I think it's terribly important that we focus on
solving the real problem and not solving....
HUMPHRYS: But it maybe that you
cannot solve the real problem unless you can solve this question of the
structure of the railways.
MUIR: Of course you can
solve the problem. It is wholly possible to have a major company like Railtrack
with good control over major subcontractors, dozens of other industries
do it, the off-shore oil industry - BP doesn't own everybody on an off-shore
industry. This is a dangerous distraction from getting on with real jobs.
WOLMAR: George, I think the whole
way the industry was privatised may well have been responsible for nearly
all, with the exception of Great Heck, all the accidents after privatisation
- Southall and Paddington...
HUMPHRYS: ..but we had accidents
WOLMAR: We did have accidents but
if you look at these accidents carefully as I have done, you see that in
each case there's failure of communication between the different parts
of the rail industry and the problem is it's not like the oil industry.
Trains are running the whole time, they are always under the command of
the signal people, it's not other industries where it's a much more relaxed
flow. The railways are an intense industry.
HUMPHRYS: It's a powerful argument
isn't it Mr Muir.
MUIR: I don't think it
is, I think it is a dangerous distraction from the real issue which is
set about good training, good command, good control systems, flowing through
of the maintenance and it is wholly true that this can be done without
everybody being employed by the same person.
HUMPHRYS: Quick thought about money
then because obviously maintenance is hugely expensive, is there enough
money in the system to do the job that ought to be done?
WOLMAR: Oddly enough there is a
vast amount of money going into the industry at the moment, far more than
under British Rail. The trouble is again, because of this system, a lot
of it is being wasted. For example, the West Coast Mainline was supposed
to be re-furbished at the cost of two, three billion pounds, the price
seems to now be somewhere near ten billion pounds and rising and nobody
quite knows where all that money goes and that again is a problem with
HUMPHRYS: Mr Muir.
MUIR: Well, indeed, I have
to unfortunately, Christian, I have to simply disagree again. This is not
a structural issue, there is a lot of money going into the railway but
I think what we haven't appreciated is the increased tonnage and use of
the railway. The big Intercity lines, for instance the Great West Line
and the North East Lines now have thirty per cent more traffic and tonnage
than they did six years' ago and on essentially the same network and what
we do know is that the use of the network increases the requirement for
maintenance renewals. So we are really hammering this network as it's been
hammered never before and put West Coast on one side which is a very difficult
problem, but for the rest of the network, it shouldn't surprise us that
an immense amount , more money is required to handle this vastly greater
HUMPHRYS: Alright, thank you both
for that for the moment.