Claims by Network Rail senior managers that they deserve six-figure bonuses on top of their generous salaries are based on the idea that the company is in the private sector and that they are highly skilled managers at the cutting edge of capitalism who could easily get much better paid elsewhere.
That is nonsense. Network Rail is a publicly funded organisation dependent on vast subsidies from the Government because the railways are inherently a loss-making industry and it is the infrastructure, for which the company is responsible, that eats up huge dollops of taxpayers’ cash. Network Rail does not have shareholders and therefore its managers have very little accountability. Its 100 “members” who have a supervisory role are little more than a sounding board.
Iain Coucher and his senior colleagues have shown themselves to be competent managers but the notion that they would obtain much better remunerated employment in the City is laughable. The skills of running a rail company are not easily transferred. Yes, Network Rail has done better of late, reducing the proportion of late trains to less than 10 per cent but that is merely what the private railway companies of yore and, indeed, British Rail, would have considered a minimum. Mr Coucher did himself no favours by accepting a huge bonus last year despite the debacle of delayed engineering works after Christmas 2007.
The improvements achieved by Network Rail since its creation have merely been to restore the railway to its performance before the Hatfield crash in 2000, which was caused by a broken rail and led to a sharp increase in delays.
Passengers are still far more inconvenienced than in the past, what with weekend closures and transfers to ancient replacement buses. Lord Adonis, the Rail Minister, last month took the unusual step of publicly criticising managers for allowing the closure of both main routes between London and Scotland over the same weekend. With passengers also having to bear above-inflation rises, it is hardly surprising that he is trying to limit what would be very unpopular bonus payments. His difficulty is that interfering too directly in Network Rail’s governance would result in it and its £20 billion debt being included on the Government’s balance sheet, which was why the company was not nationalised when it was created out of the ashes of Railtrack