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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 15:29 GMT
Rail maintenance: Will changes improve service?
Network Rail, the UK's rail infrastructure company,is to stop using private contractors to maintain Britain's railways.

The decision to take the work in-house will affect seven contracting firms and more than 18,000 workers.

However, big track replacement projects, such as the modernisation of the London to Glasgow line will still be carried out by the private sector.

The move follows criticism that contracting out maintenance work had not been efficient and was jeopardising safety.

Do you agree with Network Rail's decision to stop using private contractors for its maintenance work? Will this improve the railways?


This debate is now closed. Thank you for your e-mails. The comments below reflect a balance of views received:

Rail users are often made to feel as though they should be grateful that such services exist
Rustam Roy, England (ex-India)
The UK's rail network is worse than in some so-called developing countries and shows little signs of concrete improvement. Having lived in Germany for many years, I think there is a big difference in attitude towards public services, which I think is the root problem. In countries such as Germany, people expect to have a reasonably efficient and safe public transport system - it is a very basic expectation. In the UK, on the other hand, rail users are often made to feel as though they should be grateful that such services exist.

I don't think there is any pride on the part of the service providers - merely arrogance. There needs to be a cultural change in this country so that the provision of efficient and safe public transport is a given and not something to be grateful for. The use of private contractors should not matter, as long as they perform the job to the required standards - clearly this is not the case.
Rustam Roy, England (ex-India)

No. Because the "Pride in the Job" which used to run Railways has gone. Until that returns nothing will improve. And how we get that back in the current climate I do not know.
D Strange, UK

National railway networks are a part of the fabric of the country, key to the functioning of the country's economy. They are not a tool to make huge profits for shareholders. Not everything in life will make you money, but fixing tracks has to be done. If the private companies are incapable of doing it because they are too scared of their shareholders, I see no option but to have the government take it back on board.
Martin, UK

Accidents will always happen when humans are involved
Anthony, UK
Unfortunately the Railways, like every other organisation in this country, have now gone 'safety mad' because of fears of prosecutions and legal damages. The relatives of those killed in Rail Accidents have made so much noise that no-one on the railways dare blow their noses these days without permission. Accidents will always happen when humans are involved. For example in the old 'BR' days you just replaced a line of track. Now you have to replace all the electronics and relays that sit in the track which stop trains at red signals. Why should the railways be required to have such complicated railway systems when roads and trams are not?
Anthony, UK

Perhaps the unacceptable truth of all of this is that if Civil Servants cannot be trusted to run things efficiently, they should be sacked, just like in the private sector. After all, Civil service inefficiency is why things are privatised in the first place isn't it?
Dave Milne, Scotland

Britain has to make a decision about the state of its Railways. Just look at the Railways in Canada, Scandinavia, parts of Europe, Japan and USA. It tells us that we are going backwards and not forwards. Get it sorted promptly.
Miss Joanne Edwards, Brighton, UK

The issue is lack of trained workers more than who runs it. There have been long stories for years about lack of proper training courses in rail maintenance. Just look at the age of the technicians. This is a resolution of a symptom and not the illness
J Blatchford, England

This decision has removed NONE of the interfaces between the many different companies involved in getting me from home to work by train. This could be a very expensive attempt to get some good PR. I can't see how anything will get better without more money and a clear and STABLE long term plan.
Concerned traveller, UK

Yes, it is true that there will be more emphasis on track maintenance than profits now which is good in theory. But I fear that if we completely re-nationalise our train network then the unions will demand more pay and alas most of the money will go into pay and not into maintenance i.e. back to square one!
Phillip, England

Whatever happens to our railways, for heaven's sake let's not return to the dreadful days of British Rail
Gordon Stewart, UK
Whatever happens to our railways, for heaven's sake let's not return to the dreadful days of British Rail. Those of us who actually travelled on the nationalised railways remember appalling service, rude uncaring staff, delays, and cold dirty trains.
Gordon Stewart, UK

I am generally in favour of returning to in-house maintenance as this will result in more attention on safety than profits. But the only thing that I have reservations about is that rather than being held up by poor maintenance, we will now be held up instead by selfish, strike-happy unionists who will have more control over our public transport.
Dave G, UK

Moving the track work back in house seems to blow a hole in the idea the private sector work is more efficient and better than public sector. Could it be that in fact public sector work is better but the reason it has such a poor reputation is underfunding in the first instance by the taxpayer/government.
Robin Short, England

I worked for a rail company in Brighton on their Electrostar trains as a Warranty Engineer last year. I was contracted to work 45 hours per week and was paid for that. The actual amount of work that I carried out was only about 10 hours per week. The rest of the time was wasted because of inappropriate safety critical working practices and poor man management. I believe these working practices have burdened the rail industry increasing the costs and slowing the work rate down. For the rail industry to develop it has to get suitable safe working practices.
Richard Davie, Scotland

Japan has heavily invested in its railway infrastructure and has a mixture of both privately and publicly owned systems. In the UK I think the argument about the railways are publicly or privately owned misses the point - to have an efficient public transport system we need to invest continually, otherwise the result is what you now have in the UK. I very much doubt though that the UK can make up for 40 years of neglect-whether the system is renationalised or not.
Steve UK, Japan

Since when did nationalising something ever make it better?
John Burton, UK
Of course it won't be better. It will be worse and end up costing a whole lot more. Since when did nationalising something ever make it better? Getting rid of railtrack was supposed to make things better too but things have got very much worse since they were abolished and I expect they will do so under this new scheme too.
John Burton, UK

The state is taking over rail repairs...So who are they going to employ to do the work now? Exactly the same under-trained people that carry out the work for the private companies! Over here the trains run on time, in all weather, are clean, well maintained and are relatively cheap. If they can do it here with much lower tax, why can Britain not provide a similar level of service?
Andy, Switzerland

In Response to Andy from Switzerland - The trackmen I work with go through constant training. When the worker is trained on a particular piece of equipment of job, he is certified and that lasts for a certain period after which they must attend a refresher course. The people I work with are extremely professional. The announcement from NR came completely out of the blue, although I wonder if Jarvis new a few weeks ago?
Another Concerned Rail Worker, UK

If the rail industry wants to increase public respect for on time performance and reliability they need to have in-house maintenance, but based along the same lines of safety that the airline industry implements. This will cost money but I'm sure the public would be willing to pay for this if they were given the sort of service that a lot of our European neighbours enjoy.
Mr Robert King, England

But why we can't do the decent thing and re-nationalise it
Will, England
It's a step in the right direction that obviously should be welcomed but why we can't do the decent thing and re-nationalise it I just don't know. Yes, it will cost a lot, but perhaps we can get the Tories to pay for it -bankrupting them in the process - since it was they that are ultimately responsible for this mess.
Will, England

Switching the National Railway's track work and maintenance into the direct control of Railtrack is not going to make a big change overnight. The railways, like all mature or decrepit organisations, have developed its own internal culture. Like most old cultures it has not evolved for the better. To change a culture for the better takes a long time and requires really good leadership. But it cannot be done overnight.
W D Toulman, United Kingdom

The same workers will now work for somebody else. The same mistakes will be made. The same accidents are likely to happen again and again. But obviously something MUST change.
Dave Osborn, England

As a long time supporter of the UK's railways this decision to bring maintenance in-house can only be a step forward in improving the railways. The original idea to split BR up instead of keeping it "vertically integrated" was sheer madness. The idea of a privatised railway is not wrong, the railways were in private hands in the UK for over 100 years - but they all maintained their own track and trains and had control from top to bottom.
Roy, UK living in the US

Here's an idea. Why not group all the railway companies and maintenance infrastructures together, nationalise it, and call it British Rail? That way, somebody will be directly accountable to taxpayers and fare-payers for the way the system is run. It's been done before - back in the Dark Ages, when trains ran on time and crashed less.
C. Hunter, England

In Japan, trains are not only spot on time to the second, the employees are very polite, well dressed, the trains are smart, extremely comfortable and well designed, the stations are always extra clean and efficient. Of course the Japanese system is privately run!
Steve, UK

Network Rail is the company we are currently watching reduce its workforce
Concerned Railwayman, England
I have worked in the rail industry for 40 years. All of this time in what is now called infrastructure maintenance (track, signalling and electrification maintenance). I saw British Rail cut up into small sections and sold off to the then new maintenance companies, who were at the time talking about 'Partnerships' and 'Investment in Britain's Railways'. Unfortunately very little of this has actually happened. What is of concern though, is what will happen to the hundreds of dedicated, hardworking railwaymen (staff and managers) once they are absorbed into Network Rail? Network Rail is the company we are currently watching reduce its workforce because of commercial (cash flow?) pressures.
Concerned Railwayman, England

The problem is that the work on the rail is mostly carried out by private sub-contractors, so this transfer probably won't change anything, without a major overhaul of the quality of work of these sub-contractors.
Michael, UK

How much taxpayers' money has been wasted already? How do I get a job in this incredibly lucrative business? If I run my private business badly I go bust - simple. They can't go bust - they simply ask for more taxpayers' money! That's some private business arrangement!
Jonathan Jones, UK

We have a government that promised a transformation of public transport within ten years
Patrick Broder, England
The Clapham Junction disaster happened when the whole of the rail network was run by the publicly owned British Rail so the idea that 'public is good' and 'private is bad' is a nonsense. We have a government that promised a transformation of public transport within ten years. After seven years we should be at least halfway there but the reality is that they haven't even begun to stop it getting worse. As long as passengers are treated worse than animals because we have no legal right of address, the public transport directors and unions will continue to abuse us at every single opportunity because they enjoy their power without responsibility.
Patrick Broder, England

How many years and how many lives, has it taken for the blindingly obvious to be officially recognised? If you've got to pay for a huge unproductive layer of managers, company directors, purchasing officers (and managers again) then you end up spending much more or getting a lousy result. If you really try hard you can get both! The power of the market to produce results... yeah, right.
Nick Colford, UK

By their own figures the infrastructure companies were charging Railtrack between three and five times what it cost British Rail to carry out similar work. The only discipline of the market here has been in the greed of shareholders in these companies
Greg, UK

Having just spent 3 months working in Japan, I was shocked to return to the UK and see the difference between the services offered. In Japan, trains are not only spot on time to the second, the employees are very polite, well dressed, the trains are smart, extremely comfortable and well designed, the stations are always extra clean and efficient. A train ticket in Japan is as expensive as in the UK but at least there I can see what I am paying for and where the money goes.
Chris, UK

One small step towards improving the railways
John C, Bath, UK
That's one small step towards improving the railways. Next is to integrate track, rolling stock and operating companies so that the whole system works together. Perhaps call it British Rail. You have to ask why it has taken New Labour 6 years to spot the obvious!
John C, Bath, UK

It is certainly a step in the right direction, but will only improve safety, not service. As long as trains are run by companies with shareholders, the emphasis will always be on profit and not service. This means that non-peak and non-profitable services will continue to be under threat. Only when the rail system is returned to a single non-profit organisation will there be any real chance of a true improvement in service.
Tenzin, UK

At least all money will be directed where it should be, into the maintenance of the railways, rather than into the pockets of shareholders. It is becoming all too obvious that the only benefits of "outsourcing" are to increase the profits of monolithic private companies and their shareholders. The consumer doesn't benefit in terms of lower prices and jobs are shipped overseas where ever possible.
Adrian, UK

The reason why maintenance costs have risen is a lack of trained staff
Andy, UK
The railways will be managed by the same people, run by the same people. The only difference will be that money will be wasted at a greater rate. The reason why maintenance costs have risen is a lack of trained staff (this will not change) and the inability of Network Rail to manage its supply chain in an effective manner.
Andy, UK

Expect to see the share prices of the maintenance companies nose-dive, as they have just lost their best source of profit.
Nathan Hobbs, UK

It's only taken 9 years to figure out that this kind of thing just does not work. Profit before safety this the only thing private companies think about, no matter how much they claim otherwise.
George, England

Where will Network Rail get the managers and frontline workers for this change? From the construction companies of course. Will they be better trained or will more time be given over to each job? I doubt it.
David, Qatar/UK

So if Network Rail has got the message that these private contractor deals don't do anything for safety, can some of our other national institutions get the message? Maybe the NHS, for example?
Simon Richardson, UK

An improvement to safety and reliability
Chris Lowe, UK
This can only be a good thing. The ability for local managers to schedule maintenance work according to local need rather than some over-arching contract is something that must be an improvement to safety and reliability.
Chris Lowe, UK

I agree with principle of maintenance now transferring "in-house", under Network Rail. However, I am sure that the unions are now delighted that they will have another opportunity to hold the country to ransom. How long before we have the first rumblings of a national rail maintenance strike?
Andrew Foster, UK

I don't care if it's privately or publicly maintained; just make the flipping things SAFE and RELIABLE!
Claire, UK

This goes even further to show that PPP simply does not work. Private companies being used in partnership to provide services has been a total disaster from start to finish in not only the rail industry, but in other areas as well.
Andy, England

Working processes will take a step backwards
Graham, UK
No, it will hardly improve at all in my opinion. Whereas the private contractors could be taken to task for using less skilled workers, the thought of a single source Network Rail organisation carrying out maintenance, begs the question of how will they improve. Having worked in the rail industry for years, working processes will take a step backwards as the unions cry "Safety" at every innovation introduced if it reduces staffing levels through efficiency.
Graham, UK

The integration will definitely be advantageous. Efficiency will be achieved more easily by the fact that all the regulations, rules and procedures will be of one standard and there will be less confusion and more communication which will be better than many different contractors each with their own prerogative.
Alex, UK

Network Rail's decision is the best one for the industry. Safety, will once again be the priority over firms cutting corners to make bigger profits for the shareholders.
Joanne, UK

We're supposed to believe that private firms haven't been efficient, so the state will do it and it'll be more efficient. Don't make me laugh!
Simon, UK




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