A minister trying to manage a crisis

Last week, Jackie Ashley (NS Interview, 11 December) asked me how I would describe the situation on the railways. My reply was: "I think it is a crisis that has to be managed." You did not print that, but instead claimed on your front page that I said "There is no crisis".

Nor did any quote in the interview inside justify the headline. Indeed, my reported reply (minus the opening sentence above) read on: "It's a crisis of confidence and it's been a crisis of investment, and it's been a political crisis in that privatisation took place in the wrong way."

All in all, a cumulative crisis, as I thought was being made plain. Whether your omissions and distortions were cynical or just sloppy, your readers should know that I do believe there is an unprecedented crisis on the railways caused by cracked rails.

Urgent investigation is going on into the cause and extent of this particular problem of "gauge corner cracking". Meanwhile, government is also working closely with Railtrack, train companies, regulatory bodies and representatives of long-suffering passengers to minimise disruption and frustration. Through collective management of the crisis, we are making progress, albeit still too slowly. However, rerailing accelerates by the week, and significant improvements to journey times are promised by the end of January.

Gus Macdonald
Minister for Transport

Your interview with the minister for transport not only exposes his complacency towards a crisis that is doing immense damage to the railways, but also suggests why his native city must be the only one still keen to build yet more urban motorways. Gus Macdonald likes statistics as he likes cars, and clearly has not the faintest notion of the railways performing a public service. But if only 7 per cent of journeys in the UK are made by train, ought he not to consider this alarmingly low by civilised European standards, if he has the least interest in his government's ostensible commitment to an integrated transport system, reducing pollution, congestion, and so on?

I can only presume that, when he needs to travel from Glasgow to London, he flies. As for me, my recent rail journeys between the two cities have taken, on average, nine hours rather than five, owing to incompetence by Railtrack verging on the malicious; but, I suppose, that is not statistically significant.

Gavin Stamp

Perhaps the New Statesman is being a little hard on Gus Macdonald (Editorial and Interview, 11 December). Given the concerns about government authoritarianism expressed elsewhere in this issue (Jackie Ashley), a minister promising to make the trains run on time might have alarmed, rather than reassured, readers.

Claire O'Beirne
Amersham, Buckinghamshire