The agenda will include RMT’s concern about driver-only-operated trains on Southern Railways and Northern railways. Pat Collins, former RMT Executive member, will speak on the industrial action being taken.
Quoted in an RMT report: “Only a fool would suggest that drivers can drive a train while sorting out drunken and/or antisocial behaviour in the carriages behind them”
The Department for Transport wants a significant expansion of Driver Only Operation (DOO), introducing it on the Northern and Great Western franchises, with a target of around 50%. Laura Kuenssberg (impartial BBC) reports that the ambition is to bring down the cost of rail travel for the tax payer and the train passenger – not to increase shareholder dividends.
A list of incidents given in a 2016 government dossier set out the risks associated with working on electrified lines, ending:
“These are only a sample of the 35 areas of safety responsible duties they perform. When there is an emergency the guard can take charge especially if the train driver is incapacitated”.
James Grant, an experienced train driver has highlighted questions as to whether drivers can safely close train doors at stations on ‘guardless’ trains – and other issues.
A recent issue of Private Eye said that Mr Grant doesn’t work for Southern but has taken the controls of many driver-only-operated (DOO) trains elsewhere. Earlier in his career as a British Rail guard, Mr Grant often had to put his safetv training to use.
“I ended up having to deal with fires on trains, fires on stations, hooligans trying to wreck the train, assaults on passengers, assaults on revenue protection staff, passengers taken ill, drunk passengers. passengers on drugs, attempted sexual assaults, passenger accidents and injuries and major disruption. l was able to stop a lot of incidents occurring however, just by my presence on the train, and where things did go wrong I was able to help stop the situation from becoming worse”. During prolonged delays he dissuaded passengers from jumping on to the track.
His verdict? DOO can be reasonably safe if the best monitoring equipment is priorities and properly maintained, so long as the stations always have staff available to help, railway police respond quickly to emergency calls from a DOO train and the trains are short: “A driver cannot be expected to be able to deal effectively with emergencies in vehicle 11 or 12 of a 12-car train. If the train is stopped on a curve or under a bridge, how can a driver even see if the last vehicle is on fire?”
Smaller stations do not have staff who could help the driver by acting as a guard before departure. Recently this writer was saved from being trapped by a guard bellowing from the platform at the rear of the train, as she was entering a door which was just about to close automatically. That station only has one member of staff, manning the ticket office downstairs – in off-peak hours there is no-one.
There have been numerous safety incidents on DOO services and RMT believes that the public is safer with a fully safety-trained guard on board who knows how the railway operates. The campaign to save the guards has been backed by numerous councillors, transport bodies, passenger groups, disability groups and MPs; after reading about Mr Grant’s experience and looking at the dossier, others will share their concern.