The government’s latest ‘PR stunt’ isn’t fooling anybody

Theresa May and a Southern Rail train
Steve Topple

The latest “strategy” from the government for the UK’s beleaguered rail network has gone down like a lead balloon among trade unions, passenger groups, and industry experts.

Let’s get digital. Digital. We’re gonna get digital.

On Thursday 10 May, the government and Network Rail launched the Digital Railway Strategy. The government says that the planned upgrades for the rail network, worth £450m, will:

  • “Safely allow more trains to run per hour by running trains closer together.”
  • “Allow more frequent services and more seats.”
  • “Cut delays by allowing trains to get moving more rapidly after disruption.”
  • “Enable vastly improved mobile and WiFi connectivity, so that passengers can make the most of their travel time and communities close to the railway can connect more easily.”

The main area of focus of the strategy is digital signalling, which the government claims will provide drivers with “real-time information”. The plan is that that digital signalling will reduce delays, congestion, and disruption. According to Rail Technology Magazine, the government plans to upgrade 70% of journeys to “digital railway technology” in the next 15 years.

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Launching the strategy, transport secretary Chris Grayling said:

We are investing in the biggest modernisation of our railway since Victorian times to deliver what passengers want to see – faster, more reliable and more comfortable journeys.

Sadly the transport secretary’s plans haven’t convinced everyone.

Hang on…

The general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) Mick Cash called the plans a “PR stunt” and a “smokescreen”, saying:

It’s nothing but a smokescreen for Chris Grayling to suddenly start parading around as a great rail moderniser… No one is going to believe a word he says.

Britain’s railways have been jammed in the slow lane for decades due to a toxic combination of under investment, fragmentation and private profiteering.

To drag ourselves into the digital age will take more than a PR stunt. It will require real investment in staffing and technology ‎and an end to the bleeding away of the cash required to make it happen by the greedy private train operators.

Respected rail journalist Roger Ford also poured scorn on the government’s plans:

Passengers hit back

The Association of British Commuters (ABC) isn’t buying the government’s plans either. Its co-founder Emily Yates told The Canary:

Not for the first time, we note that Chris Grayling’s rhetoric about innovation and technology is something that better resembles a relic of the ‘Victorian age’ – or perhaps, going back further, a superstitious practice like praying for rain. We are in the fourth industrial revolution, not the third, and this kind of technocratic PR-speak just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Read Yates’ full statement below:

The government: running out of track

The government didn’t convince the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) either. Its general secretary Manuel Cortes said:

…whilst… Grayling, appears to be offering jam tomorrow, passengers will be rightly asking what is he doing in the here and now to alleviate the myriad of problems they face on a daily basis. From overcrowded, clapped out trains to the highest and most complex fares in Europe, Grayling’s ‘Department for Failure’, is continuously letting our travelling public down…

If Grayling cared about passengers and taxpayers, the announcement he would be making today is that he was ending the failed Tory rail Frankenstein privatisation experiment.

People would be more likely to believe the government’s plans if its track record on our railways wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. With failed contracts, rail industry bail outs, and scathing parliamentary criticism, Grayling and the government’s ineptitude for the rail network knows no bounds. With public support for rail nationalisation continuing to be overwhelming, the government is proving it’s out of touch with our rail industry, and is rapidly running out of track.

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– Read more from The Canary about our rail network and support the ABC, fighting for everyone’s transport rights.

Featured image via Guardian News – YouTube and My another account – Wikimedia 

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