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Sunday, 26 November, 2000, 13:23 GMT
Is it right for Corbett to go?

Railtrack's chief executive, Gerald Corbett, has resigned.

The company, which controls the tracks of Britain's rail network, has faced renewed criticism since the derailment at Hatfield last month, which claimed the lives of four people. Mr Corbett tended his resignation following that accident, but it was rejected.

He stayed on to oversee a major programme of track repairs which has brought chaos to the rail network. Now Railtrack's board says the time is right for him to go.

Is it the right time? What difference can his departure make to the future of the beleaguered Railtrack?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Yes - Corbett should have left, indeed he should have departed far sooner. His replacement - the former finance director - doesn't superficially appear too promising. Surely John Prescott should resign too: his handling of rail issues has been an absurdity.
Bernard Stedman, UK

Gerald Corbett has done a very good job based on his mandate at privatisation. Namely, to minimise the costs to the country and to maximise the profits for the shareholders. If, as a country we want these priorities changed, then it is down to us to let the politicians know, and ensure that the rail regulator has real teeth so that the new priorities are implemented.
Michael, UK

It's the worst run industry in Europe as well as the biggest embarrassment

Kai van Farnhill, United Kingdom
With my feelings at the moment I would say the entire work force should resign. I used to use the Manchester/Blackburn service to get to work - I ceased using the service when I grew wary of being regularly late to and from work by up to an hour. My experience of the railway system leads me to think that it's the worst run industry in Europe as well as the biggest embarrassment!
Kai van Farnhill, United Kingdom

Gerald Corbett was a man put in charge of a worn out railway system. His only fault was to realise that the British hate the railways and love their cars. I make no apology for liking the man who was very unfairly treated. Yes I am a shareholder, and I believe passionately in rail transport being the most environmental friendly transport system. If it wasn't for private investors like me for example, the Channel Tunnel would never have been built.
Anthony, England

The rail network's problems pale in comparison to those of roads and motorways

Jack, UK
So which politician or public servant is going to resign for the daily delays and deaths on the road network - the rail network's problems pale in comparison to those of roads and motorways.
Jack, UK

Good riddance! When I lived in the UK twenty years ago you had a safe, reliable railroad network. Now you've let it go to the dogs because you keep appointing bean counters instead of engineers to run the show. Accountants know nothing of safety, all they understand is costs must go down, so profits can go up.
John, Canada

Yes, and he should have gone some time ago. Either for being aware of the problems and not fixing them, or for not being aware of the problems in the first place. As for the payout - he should count himself lucky that this country prevents him being legally responsible for manslaughter.
Mick, UK

Resignations rarely achieve anything

Jon Ratcliffe, UK
Anyone following the rail network over the last year, since Ladbroke Grove will know that there was a step-change in the attitude of Railtrack to the way it operated and presented itself. This change was driven from Corbett, and he should be recognised for making that significant step change. Resignations rarely achieve anything, and this one will only delay the improvements to the network while the new CE feels his way into the job. Anyone who follows the details of the rail industry will know that Gerald will be greatly missed by many different people. I feel he has had a long lasting impact on Britain's National Rail Network which will last for many years to come.
Jon Ratcliffe, UK

We are appalled at the news that Gerald Corbett is to receive a six figure pay-out for presiding over a shambolic railway system culminating in the death of many innocent commuters. The sooner the people of this country wake up and realise the amount of money that these "fat-cats" are receiving for not doing their job the better. The man was paid to do a job which he failed to do - therefore, should he receive any severance pay?
Viv Palmer & Mike Heyes, England

I agree with Lee. Why is resignation seen as taking responsibility? It takes much more responsibility to admit one's mistakes, and do something about it. I feel his first offer of resignation was done because it's what was expected. The press would not have left him alone had he not done it. I'm glad it wasn't accepted and that he was left to reform the system. Now those reforms are underway, perhaps it is the time for him to go. I think he has accepted responsibility, and acted responsibly.
Tristan O'Dwyer,UK

Higher you go, harder you fall. Having a hard fall comes with the job! Therefore no sympathies.
Narinder Dogra, US

The whole of Railtrack and their privatisation partners should go. Bring back BR

James H, UK
There is no doubt he should go, how can a man with that salary justify himself? Profit before safety.
Alex White, UK

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Gerald Corbett just walks away from the mess he helped create. What a wimp!
Adam, UK

It isn't really enough. The whole of Railtrack and their privatisation partners should go. Bring back BR.
James H, UK

One of the sickest aspects of this resignation is his six figure golden handshake. It puts a sickly feeling in the pit of your stomach when you compare the compensation he gets for losing his job, to the compensation the crash victims will get because he didn't do it properly.
Merx, London, UK

If he's going to go now then I really think he ought to "go" by train ... slowly and painfully like the rest of us at the moment

Christine Burns, UK
How dare the boss of Railtrack leave with a 377,000 golden handshake? If only Michael Foot had won the 1983 election: we'd never have had a rail privatisation.
Eddie, England

The problem with the Railway industry is that it does not put a high enough value on life. Lawsuits brought by victims' families will help to increase the cost of life for Railtrack and ultimately lead to a safer railway.
Robin Noble, UK

If he's going to go now then I really think he ought to "go" by train ... slowly and painfully like the rest of us at the moment.
Christine Burns, UK

Corbett is right to go, but not to accept his 6 figure golden handshake. To show true humanity, he will hand that over to the families of the victims and the injured survivors of the Hatfield crash. That would be a true gesture - even though a small one - showing that there is at least some compassion in big business.
Graham Follett, UK

Having failed to do his job properly there is no other honourable course of action

Colin, UK
Gerald Corbett is right to resign. Having failed to do his job properly there is no other honourable course of action. But I do wish we had proper laws in this country which would hold Gerald Corbett, and the rest of the Railtrack board responsible for the deaths that have occurred due to their decisions, actions and inactions. Until we have such laws things will not change.
Colin, UK

Railtrack is an organisation which never should have been created. All this company cares about is making its shareholders happy (like any profit making organisation). One way it does this is by unnecessarily redeveloping city centre railway land for profit making commercial operations. The long term solution is to renationalise Railtrack and never allow the Tories to make the same mistake again.
David Jones, UK

Of course he should go, and not just him but the entire board and senior staff who have been so incompetent and indolent. The regulator should also be sacked for not keeping a close eye on this mess.
Chris, Ireland

You'd think from some of the comments that Gerald Corbett was personally responsible for the Southall, Paddington and Hatfield crashes.
Peter, UK

He was willing to stand up and actually do something

Mark, UK
He shouldn't have gone. True, he was earning a packet, but he was willing to stand up and actually do something. The rail network has been badly underfunded for years. Anyone who thinks you can change the situation in a year or two, whilst running the network as normal, is very naive. The next few months of inconvenience that we're going to have will be offset against the fact that we might have a halfway safe railway system.
Mark, UK (a frequent rail user)

The rail industries' problems don't start and end with one man. A wholesale rethink is required to correct the mistakes made in the rushed privatisation. Two major changes are required: Bring maintenance back directly under Railtrack's control, and redesign the penalty system to create incentives for investment and safety. Any talk of renationalisation is plain stupid. Does anyone really believe you can run somthing as complicated as the railways with the same management culture as the civil service? As a final point, do you know how many people are killed on the roads every year? Thousands. Four have died on the rail network. If we are interested in saving lives, let's have better control of speeding, and an automatic system for all cars who run a red light!
Jim, UK

I am very, very angry about the way that he and his board have behaved

Andrew Cooper, England
When Corbett first offered to resign I wasn't sure he was doing the right thing. However, when he started to blame the government for the state of our railways I was convinced that he should. While government targets for speed and reliability may have been part of the problem, Mr Corbett was quite happy to take his salary (and whatever else he was given) even though the system he was running was 'approaching melt-down'. He should, I think, have drawn this to the travelling public's notice before the melt-down led to deaths and the massive disruption of recent weeks - or should have resigned earlier from his job if it was impossible for him to do it properly and provide a safe railway. I am very, very angry about the way that he and his board have behaved.
Andrew Cooper, England

It may not be possible to undo the privatisation of BR completely. However, equity for investment, whether for safety or other infrastructure, should be retained by the Government. In lieu of the BR mess, surely the folly of 'privatising' the Tube should be evident, and preventable. Look no further than New York, where the system is going the opposite way from government support, and the issuing of bonds. Hardly a 'leftist' solution!
S Saines, Canada

He has started something and should see it through

Mike, Kuwait
It is definitely the wrong time to go. He has started something and should see it through. The railways are suffering from years of under-investment and will take years to sort out. He resounded to the public's intolerance of accidents, unfortunately you can not repair and use railways at the same time. It seems as if few people outside politics are prepared to put up with the criticism born of hindsight from the witch hunting media.
Mike, Kuwait

I think it is amazing that history is being re-written to mislead people into believing that the railways were safer pre-privatisation. I know that honesty is not the first priority in politics, but lies about safety issues ought to be beyond the pale.
Jon Livesey, USA

I believe that Mr. Corbett is being used as a sacrificial lamb, and that his departure is nothing but a pointless gesture which demonstrates the current trend to blame individuals rather than the system which has allowed the individual to take their dubious actions. The real question to be asked is not whether he should have gone, but whether Railtrack should still be in the public domain in order to avoid the conflict of interest that the directors of Railtrack have - namely satisfying their shareholders with dividends and capital growth or providing a safe rail system.
Mr. Ski, UK

He had a legal obligation to maximise company profits - which he did very well

Neil, England
He had a legal obligation to maximise company profits - which he did very well. As a large shareholder I think he should be praised for his work.
Neil, England

There's no doubt in my mind that his departure was right, because the organisation he ran failed. They did not manage the process of keeping lines running whilst applying preventative maintenance (and thus safety). The important thing now is getting a successor who has experience and results in this field - they should get an executive from the Japanese train system which is the safest in the world and pay him a good salary - rather than accept the level of mediocrity we are used to.
Gavin Pearson, Detroit, USA

Unfortunately with the state of the rail network in this country the problems we're experiencing now would have happened with or without Mr. Corbett. The question isn't about him though; it's about one of the biggest and most disturbing contradictions I have ever seen. How can this company get away with taking billions of pounds from the government with one hand and paying their shareholders with the other. Rail certainly should have been privatised but the track should have been run by a non-profit organisation owned and run by the separate train operators.
David Massingham, England

What a wonderful option chief executives have. When they get things wrong, they can run away and get a generous pay-off, leaving everyone else to clear up the mess behind them.
Steve Johnson, UK

How can anyone justify taking over 300,000 a year home when the railways are in such a mess and in desperate need of cash!

Rob Jones, UK
How can anyone justify taking over 300,000 a year home when the railways are in such a mess and in desperate need of cash! The PM doesn't even get paid much and he runs the country! Yes I think he should quit and I don't think anyone should take over with such a large salary especially when the job isn't being done properly!
Rob Jones, UK

The problems of the railways were inherited from the long period of nationalisation. The culture was not sensitive to the needs of passengers, whether for comfort, safety, timeliness or proper communications. It will take a generation to correct that. Those who blame privatisation are missing the point completely. The shake-up of privatisation should have led to far-reaching management changes, as it did in BA/BT/Gas/Power, and the problem is that it has not yet been completed. Whoever replaces Corbett must be willing and able to spend 5 to 10 years changing the entire approach.
D M Eadie, Scotland

Whether he should go or not is now immaterial because he HAS gone. The shocking news is that he has been replaced by a glorified accountant. The leader our rail system needs is someone who understands modern railways not someone who understands how to further cut back spending. This will be a disaster for all of us. Perhaps now, the people who appointed this man should be sacked.
Gary Dale, England

He had overall responsibility for the safe running of this network. He failed in this. Therefore, he failed to do his job properly

Kev, UK
He certainly should have gone! He had overall responsibility for the safe running of this network. He failed in this. Therefore, he failed to do his job properly. Regardless of whether he had the funding needed to make the network run as well as we, the public, expected, or whatever else is being touted as an excuse these days, he knew this was the case when he took the job on. Now it's someone else's turn to try to make this work properly. Corbett clearly wasn't up to the job - perhaps the next person will be.
Kev, UK

It is rather ironic that Railtrack is lambasted when trains run late due to track and signal problems, and then gets lambasted anyway when services are disrupted due to fixing the track and signals. How exactly are they supposed to function when they get fined for breakage's and fined for fixing broken equipment? Although someone has to take responsibility for the recent disasters, the situation needs more than the resignation of one man. If nothing else I want to see John Two-Jags Prescott kicked out and someone who knows what they're doing put in a supervisory position.
Karl Peters, UK

Absolutely and so should the entire board. These are the people who are responsible for making decisions about safety and maintenance. I cannot imagine how the Railtrack board can claim he was the "best man for the job". If that was the case why all these problems?
Ramana, UK

The man at the top is ultimately responsible and should be held to count for his companies actions - not allowed to escape and leave someone else to sort out his mess!
AI, England

Pointing the finger is easy isn't it? The problems that the whole rail network have are not new. It's like a rot: It takes some time to get a hold but then the effects are suddenly devastating. The chaos brought about by the extensive track repairs was always going to happen while preventative maintenance was not being done. Now Railtrack have decided that enough is enough and that immediate major repairs have to made. This isn't irresponsible; this is using enormous courage to take great responsibility in the face of media-encouraged public "outrage" (a media term!). If Mr Corbett is responsible for taking this step than perhaps he is the best chance the whole British rail network has of surviving.
Harry, Germany

Of course Corbett should go and so should everybody on the board that voted through the increased dividend to Railtrack shareholders

Ian Bell, UK
Of course Corbett should go and so should everybody on the board that voted through the increased dividend to Railtrack shareholders. How can a company state that safety is it's highest priority when it has plainly demonstrated that paying dividends is it's highest priority? The two are incompatible. No money should be paid in dividends until such times as the board have proven to the travelling public that the system is safe.
Ian Bell, UK

Mr Corbett should go, yes...but he should return some of the money he has been paid; clearly he hasn't done his job properly so he should be paid accordingly.
Chris Hoare, UK

About time too! The fact that Railtrack knew many miles of its track was not up to standard, and still allowed trains to run up to maximum line speeds was dreadful. During the last month or so, Railtrack have blamed everyone else but themselves. At the end of the day they were responsible for the national network and they let the nation down. Hopefully a new face at the helm will help them to realise that they have never been focused on what counts, safety, and customers - only then can you begin to think about profits.
David, England

Corbett has done a wonderful job and what ever has happened with the rail track, has happened and that cannot be erased off our minds. I think Railtrack has lost one of its best pilots for its hard journey ahead
Addey, UK

How can resigning be "taking responsibility" - doing something about the situation is taking responsibility!
Lee, England

We need an engineer in charge before we can feel safe again

John Robbins, England
Mr Corbett was a financial expert, as is his replacement. What has being a financial expert got to do with running a safe rail system? We need an engineer in charge before we can feel safe again.
John Robbins, England

To be fair, the regulatory regime puts Railtrack on a hiding to nothing. They inherited a run-down system but are fined for delays caused by trying to put it right. Existing rail capacity can never meet demand on main routes, the government is not going to put in the sums required and private capital is unlikely to take the risk of low returns and the risk of fines by regulators moving the goalposts. Gerald Corbett is a sacrificial lamb for decades of government ineptitude.
Brian, UK

As CEO he has to take responsibility for corporate errors. This happens everywhere else in industry and I do not see why Railtrack should be any different. His resignation is totally justified.
Mark B, UK

Corbett's "offer to resign" was insufficient: a straight resignation - with no compensation for "loss of office" should have been promptly given

John Denney, UK
Not only should the man have resigned in the immediate aftermath of the Hatfield disaster, but so should the rest of the board. The Railtrack board has a collective responsibility, as their recent newspaper advertisements admit. They have neglected the proper and safe maintenance of the track infrastructure in favour of high personal remuneration and the payment of dividends at a level acceptable to Railtrack's shareholders.
Corbett's "offer to resign" was insufficient: a straight resignation - with no compensation for "loss of office" should have been promptly given. I hope that no "compensation" is being paid now, nor for the rest of the board should they accept their responsibility and resign en masse.
John Denney, UK

It is good that someone has finally taken responsibility for the shambles that is our railway network. Even before the crash services were shoddy. It is a shame Prescott doesn't also resign as he clearly has even less idea how to run a transport system.
John B, UK

Once again we will hear the "statement" that the safety problems were before the (new) chief executive was in place, and that the company will learn from the past...Corbett should have stayed and sorted the mess.
Neil, UK

On balance, I think Gerald Corbett was on of the good guys and we should be concerned at his loss to the industry

Ian Bartlett, UK
I don't think there is a clear-cut right or wrong here. Yes, Railtrack have made some appalling errors, but on the other hand, it has become quite clear that railways are not a simple, easy-to-run business and this has been learned by Gerald Corbett, albeit the hard way. I think for us now to have a new person appointed to this role should raise concern about how long it will take them to learn the industry and to handle a Press which is incapable of reporting rail matters in a sensible way. On balance, I think Gerald Corbett was on of the good guys and we should be concerned at his loss to the industry.
Ian Bartlett, UK

His resignation should have been accepted the first time round. This country has a very lax attitude to health and safety and there is no excuse for incompetence or ignorance. Both of which have been displayed by Railtrack on very many occasions.
S Gray, Dundee, Scotland

His resignation now makes it easier for him to dodge any responsibility for the tragedies of the last three years - Hatfield, Paddington, Southall, the chaos of last week and the consistent mismanagement of what was the greatest railway network in the world. It is high time the government reconsidered it's policy of not re-nationalising the railways as the private sector have made it blatantly obvious that they are neither capable nor willing to run an efficient, universal service.
Adam, Manchester, UK

Go? - He should never have been there! Privatised railways are a one-way ticket to disaster, re-nationalise now!
Mac, UK

nyone who repeatedly put profits and the interests of shareholders above the safety of his extortionate fare paying customers should resign. There is no question.
Stuart Ford, UK

The Rail system is the most unfriendly and dangerous I have ever used, and I have used many across the world. It's very expensive to travel, most do not run to the time tables, most staff give false information - our Rail network is a joke, BUT still the rich get richer regardless of safety!
Nicolas Jasone, England

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