Southern train at St Leonards Warrior Square Station. © Copyright N Chadwick (under Creative Commons)
Southern Rail, ScotRail and red herrings
It’s often said that it takes two sides to make a dispute; it certainly takes two sides to end one.
Last week during talks at ACAS, the RMT offered to suspend strike action at Southern Rail if the company matched an offer on guards and safety that’s being made in a separate dispute by ScotRail. The offer on the table there included that for any Scotrail EMU services (electrical multiple unit) that are being electrified now or in future, and for services that operate on the north Berwick-Edinburgh-Castairs-Glasgow routes – there will be a conductor on every new electrified train and a guarantee that conductors will retain their full competencies relating to track safety, rules and evacuation.
Scotrail confirmed that trains operating these services will not run without a competent conductor on board. The proposals are subject to discussion on how trains are dispatched from the station, but nonetheless – Scotrail and RMT have made some progress in trying to find a solution to the dispute.
RMT pushed for these guarantees as it rightly sees them as safety critical measures to ensure passenger and rail staff safety.
The same cannot be said for Govia Thameslink Rail (GTR) which runs Southern Rail. Despite professing concern for passengers – stating that strike action will “bring misery to hundreds of thousands of passengers” – Govia rejected RMT’s offer describing it as “a complete red herring”.
So the deal is good enough for passengers using Scotrail, but not good enough for those in London and the South East. It would seem that GTR aren’t that bothered about passenger misery after all.
RMT have long maintained that the Southern Rail dispute is about safety; Scotrail’s offer would ensure that there is a safety-critical guard on those routes. No red-herrings from what I can see – only putting passengers’ safety first. Guards are fully trained in operational safety and route knowledge, including being able to secure the doors safely, protect passengers and the train and act intelligently in emergencies.
For GTR, the government and other train operating companies, removing safety critical guards and extending driver only operated trains is really about cost cutting. GTR are proposing to extend driver-only operations and replace conductors with ‘on board supervisors’. RMT state that the Rail Safety Standards Board have commented that savings can come from:
“…employing fewer staff, and from replacing guards (Conductors) with cheaper non-safety critical on-train staff (NSCOS)” and that “Safety critical training for guards would no longer be required, which would reduce the training requirement from 12 weeks to 4 weeks for the second staff member on board”.
“…there may be changes to the risk profile, in terms of the likelihood of events occurring, or the severity of their consequences”.
While the RSSB go on to state the right technological and operational mitigations can make driver only operations safety neutral, rail unions believe that current technological safeguards are not adequate to ensure passenger safety.
Rail unions want a safe, properly staffed railway so passengers are able to get help when they need it. We want passengers to feel confident that on crowded platforms they’ll be able to get on and off their train safely, and if there’s an incident or emergency – there is someone properly trained to protect them. For that, we need safety-critical trained guards on trains.
The Scotrail offer made by RMT to Southern Rail was no red-herring. It’s GTR that’s up to something fishy.