Thursday, 1 February 2007

Alison or Alexander?

Alison Forster, the current Managing Director of First Great Western, has a long and distinguished career in the railway industry.

Having worked on the Great Western network, in one capacity or another, since 1988 she has an intricate knowledge of the region and its rail operation. She also has a solid track record of competence and dedication. It was Alison Forster who, no less than three times, wrote to Railtrack before the Ladbroke Grove rail disaster to warn them that Signal 109 was repeatedly being passed on red and that it posed a threat to rail safety. Her warnings were ignored. Had they been followed up, the Ladbroke Grove crash would probably never have happened.

Alison Forster is also an extremely visible Managing Director. She corresponds with members of the public over their concerns; she regularly travels on her own trains; and, when in out and about, she wears her badge at all times so passengers can come and talk – or complain – to her.

Compare this wealth of experience to that of the present Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexander. Mr Alexander has virtually no experience of running anything. He has virtually no experience of rail. Indeed, he has spent only the smallest fraction of his career outside of the political arena. Mr Alexander is also unaccountable: he and his department hide behind the train operating companies and let them take the heat for unpopular decisions imposed by the government – just as he has done with the First Great Western timetable changes.

How can someone with so little experience be expected to manage something as intricate as the rail network? How can they be accountable if they are not prepared to take responsibility for their own decisions?

The simple answer is that they can’t. And it is for precisely this reason that we should leave the running of the rail network up to the Alison Forster’s of this world rather than the Douglas Alexander’s.

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