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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Higher you go, harder you fall.
Having a hard fall comes with the job! Therefore no sympathies.
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!
It isn't really enough. The whole of Railtrack and their privatisation partners should go. Bring back BR.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You'd think from some of the comments that Gerald Corbett was personally responsible for the Southall, Paddington and Hatfield crashes.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
How can resigning be "taking responsibility" - doing something about the situation is taking responsibility!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Go? - He should never have been there!
Privatised railways are a one-way ticket to disaster, re-nationalise now!
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.
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!
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