Grant Shapps accused of 'weaponising' digital railway project by rail union bosses

Unions described the Transport Secretary's £1bn digital signalling investment a 'non-announcement'

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps hit out at striking rail unions as he announced a £1 billion investment in digital signalling.

He said that giving the go-ahead for the replacement of Victorian signalling infrastructure on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) proves the Government is modernising the railways “despite the best efforts of unions”.

But the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) insisted it was a “non-announcement”, as much of the existing system needs replacing anyway.

Mr Shapps is embroiled in a bitter row with the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has hit out at striking rail unions as he announced a £1bn investment in digital signalling.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has hit out at striking rail unions as he announced a £1bn investment in digital signalling.

About 40,000 RMT members at Network Rail and 13 train operators went on strike last week in a dispute over jobs, pay and conditions.

Only a fifth of passenger trains were able to operate on the three strike days, with services also heavily reduced on the days after the walkouts.

Members of drivers’ union Aslef at Greater Anglia and the Croydon Tramlink walked out in separate pay rows in recent days.

The TSSA served notice to ballot its members at Greater Anglia last week for strike action and action short of strike over pay, conditions and job security.

Mr Shapps attacked the unions, telling the PA news agency: “While union bosses waste time touring television studios and standing on picket lines, I am busy getting on with the job at hand and modernising our railway.

“The world is changing and, despite the best efforts of unions, I am determined to help our railway change with it.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said the Secretary of State will “fool precisely no-one” by promising “jam tomorrow while implementing cuts today”.

He added: “This non-announcement is part of the wider Tory strategy of deceit, lies and fabrications.”

The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, on a picket line outside Euston station in London
The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, on a picket line outside Euston station in London

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “Grant Shapps is creating a straw man to knock down by falsely drawing equivalence between our strike action and this latest introduction of digital signalling.

“RMT is fully committed to the development of a digital railway and genuine modernisation, as long as our members have a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, something Network Rail has offered us for over a decade.

“The digital railway is a 15-year project undertaken by Network Rail that RMT is negotiating on how to best implement so it is bizarre of the Transport Secretary to attempt to weaponise it to score cheap political points.

“What holds back the development of the railway is private companies and contractors making a mint from the taxpayer and charging exorbitant fares to customers while overseeing a decaying Victorian railway line.”

He added: “It is outrageous that the Transport Secretary is taking credit for a modernisation programme on digital signalling that RMT helped develop and is now implementing alongside the rail industry.”