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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Unions claim ‘over 20,000 jobs at risk’ on UK railways

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Unions have claimed that ‘over 20,000 jobs on the UK’s railways could be lost’ as a result of the government’s reforms to the rail industry.

As part of its plans for the future of the rail industry, the government is asking train operating companies and Network Rail to outline how they will make cost reductions in line with the recommendations of the Rail Value for Money review led by Sir Roy McNulty.

More than a quarter of these savings – £260m a year – ‘will come through staffing cuts’, the unions launching the Action for Rail campaign said.

The unions said that according to the McNulty Review this could ‘lead to around 20,800 job losses’, including rail guards, staff in ticket offices and on station platforms, catering staff and workers in maintenance and signalling.

Surveys ‘consistently suggest that a lack of staffing is one of the key concerns of rail passengers’, and more than 10,000 commuters and train users have so far registered their opposition to staff cuts in response to union campaigns.

The McNulty Review calls for the closure of 750 Category E (or small-staffed) station booking offices around the UK.

Leaked Department for Transport emails ‘indicate that agreement has already been reached with one train operator, London Midland, to completely close or severely reduce opening hours at ticket offices at 86 of its 90 stations, leaving many deserted at all hours and leading to the loss of around 100 staff’.

This week the TUC, ASLEF, RMT, TSSA and Unite are launching an Action for Rail campaign which ‘will bring passengers, campaigners and unions together to register their opposition to the government’s proposals’.


  1. The unions’ claim of 20,800 jobs at risk comes from the figures within the McNulty Report which the ConDem Coalition Government has endorsed via the Rail Command Paper published in March.

    The government’s overriding aspiration is to cut the subsidy paid to the railways which it intends to do through a combination of above inflation fare rises until at least 2019 (look at Paragraph 2.7 of the Rail Command Paper) and wholsale cuts to staff, ignoring passenger preferences for staffed stations and trains. It also plans to attack workers’ pay and conditions to make further cuts.

    The government has been open in that they see an opportunity to impose their agenda via the franchising process. The effect of that policy will be to avoid any scrutiny by Parliament which may have laid bare just what is being proposed.

    Instead, we will witness TOCs enhancing their profits at the expense of rail users and staff whilst providing an ever worsening train service.


    Because cuts to subsidies and less prescription around rail services will mean that socially necessary but unprofitable trains will be reduced as private company attention is focused where it can make money. That’s business logic and goes to the heart of the rail dilemma – is it a service for the good of communities in the UK or is it just another way for share holders to get a return for their money whilst lining the pockets of company directors?

    The answer has to be public ownership unless we are going to witness a Beeching Mk 2.

    Anyone who disputes this needs to make sure that they have read carefully all the relevant government reports including the consultation documents.

    • Yes, but right of center thinking is fundamentally opposed to high levels of taxation / subsidy.

      Also I dispute that train services are socially necessary – they may have been “socially beneficial” pre-beeching, but post those cuts very few people get a tangible social benefit from them (buses generally provide those services). 

      There is an argument for subsidizing public transport to reduce transport pollution – this is most effective on high density commuter lines, such as those into London.

      Some people even question the wisdom or benefit of commuter mass migration into large cities like London, especially given that most of those commuters are public servants, dependent on tax-income for their salaries, and difficult to link directly to any net benefit for the country as a whole (other than reducing middle class unemployment).

      I strongly believe that if a (for profit) company cannot operate a train service without support then it should not be subsidised. This does not mean that I object to private companies operating trains under contract.. Public ownership is not the only option, but the current practice is nonsense.


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