Network Rail boss reveals he has spoken to the PM about the rail strikes - as ministers refuse to meet unions

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Network Rail boss Sir Peter Hendy backing Government over scaling back taxpayer funding for train network after Covid pandemic support  (PA Archive)
Network Rail boss Sir Peter Hendy backing Government over scaling back taxpayer funding for train network after Covid pandemic support (PA Archive)

Network Rail boss Sir Peter Hendy told on Monday how he had spoken with Boris Johnson about this week’s rail strikes - an admission likely to spark fresh demands for ministers to hold direct talks with unions to avert them.

Sir Peter, who used to run Transport for London, backed the Government’s stance that reforms are needed given that the number of people using the rail system had fallen after the Covid pandemic, with more people working from home.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union chiefs have been calling for Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to get involved in the talks to resolve the dispute.

But the Government has insisted that the row is between unions and rail firms.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter was asked on LBC Radio by presenter Nick Ferrari whether he had spoken to Mr Johnson about the planned walk-outs, responding: “I’ve been in touch with him once or twice about this.

“He’s as concerned as you would be and everybody listening that the railways continue to run.”

Sir Peter also stressed that the row was significantly about how much taxpayer’s money is going into the rail network, with an “enormous amount”, billions of pounds, having been ploughed in to keep the industry going during the pandemic.

“There are commercial entities on the railway,” he explained.

“But this is about the money that comes from the Treasury to run the railways.

“I find it very difficult to blame the Government for wanting to see the railway run more effectively when we have consumed so much public subsidy in the last two-and-a-half years.

“Network Rail staff, nearly 40,000 of them, they are employed by Network Rail, it’s a nationalised industry, it’s owned by the Government.

“It’s not surprising that the Government want to limit the amount of public money going into it especially after the cost of running the service during the pandemic.”

Sir Peter argued that rail workers were being offered an “attractive package” and that the strikes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday would be “enormously disruptive strike”.

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