Coronavirus crisis - light at the end of the tunnel

2021-02-01 -
ASLEF's General Secretary, Mick Whelan
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

Mick's Column: February 2021

Forgive me! I try not to use too many railway analogies but, with the rollout of the vaccine, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We are months away from everyone being vaccinated and, even then life will not immediately return to normal.

There will still be a need for caution, social distancing, and a gradual societal shift to engaging and being with each other. It is right that those most at risk, or vulnerable, should be vaccinated first, and then key workers on the front line. We are, of course, involved in those talks and, at this time, there is a need for NHS care workers and one or two other groups to be treated first.

"What is sure is that footfall, and ridership of trains, will take many years to return"

The country, the world, and our industry may never be the same after such a worldwide catastrophe and there will be many challenges ahead. Many businesses will not survive and there is a real debate on the future nature of work and the traditional office.

What is sure is that footfall, and ridership of trains, will take many years to return and we will be facing revised timetables going forward. Some of this, hopefully, will be based on lessons learned about performance and pinch points on the network and some will be down to demand.

We have seen from the politicising of the necessary bailout of TfL that the government wants its pound of flesh:some Treasury-based, much political in the year of a mayoral election in London, from a party that has been in power for ten years and made the capital over-reliant on passenger revenues.  

This will also play out across rail with the companies in hock to the government, and at the beck and call of the Treasury, with the uncertainty of Williams and how this report will be applied to come.

In our 141 year history, we have risen to many challenges and, together, we will deal with this one. It would be easier if we had a Prime Minister who ever operated in good faith - so much for those Brexit promises on workers' rights! The closing of borders is ten months too late, and how many untested, and possibly infected, travellers arrived by plane or, by the other means, entered the transport system and put our communities at risk?

There are so many people we know who have been impacted by the pandemic and thousands who have lost loved ones. That's why I believe it is everyone's duty to be vaccinated when their turn comes - for the sake of us all. I understand those who are uncertain, and who might want to see if there are any side effects, but the lessons of history tell us about the power and the benefits of vaccination in eradicating disease. Therefore, when we do it, it is not just for ourselves but for everyone. Please be safe.

Yours fraternally,

Mick Whelan, general secretary