From the TUC

No Mr Grayling, the #SouthernStrike is very much about safety

15 Dec 2016, By

Chris Grayling and Southern Rail are trying to convince us that the Southern strike is not about safety. They insist that extending driver only trains, which is at the heart of the dispute between Southern Rail, RMT and ASLEF, is safe. Grayling and Southern Rail talk in certainties, which are totally misleading. According to Grayling:

“All that’s happening [with Southern Railway] is the technology on the trains is changing in a way that’s actually happened before, and it’s simply happening on a broader basis than before. It’s safe. It’s been assessed by the independent safety inspectors so there’s no safety issue.”

However, that’s not quite the case. A review of driver only operated trains by the Rail Safety Standards Board found:

“…there may be changes to the risk profile, in terms of the likelihood of events occurring, or the severity of their consequences”.

What Grayling and Southern Rail also fail to mention is context. Our railways are busier now than 20-30 years ago when driver only operations were introduced. In the last 15 years passenger numbers on Southern have increased by 64% from 116m to 191m per year. This huge rise in numbers means that at the platform-train interface there are inevitable increased risks to passenger safety.

Grayling has stated that he thinks the strike by drivers was “politically motivated”. Maybe he should look closer to home for motivations. Senior Department for Transport official Peter Wilkson told a public meeting in February this year that drivers who resisted changes could “get the hell out of my industry”, and that there would be “punch ups” with drivers. Doesn’t sound like he had good industrial relations on his mind.

Unions have long said that driver only operations are not safe, but Grayling is trying to cast this as unions ‘fighting modernisation’. According to ASLEF it’s old technology designed for use on much shorter trains. But now it’s being used on 12-car trains – giving drivers just two seconds to check 24 sets of doors. General Secretary, Mick Whelan, of ASLEF says, “That is simply not adequate time to deal safely and properly, with the travelling public.”

Grayling also seems oblivious to the needs of passengers when it comes to driver only trains. Older passengers, disabled passengers and female passengers have spoken out in support of a properly staffed railway. Our recent guest blog by Chris Hogg illustrates how difficult journeys can be for disabled passengers when there are no guards on trains – meaning he sometimes can’t get off the train when he wants to. Having guards on trains is also about having a railway that is not only safe but inclusive and accessible.

What’s frustrating for all is that a deal could be reached if Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Southern, and the government were willing.

Earlier this year the RMT and Aslef reached an agreement with Scotrail. 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.

Govia and the Department for Transport may talk about safety, but in the end it’s about cost cutting. According to the Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB – 2015) in relation to implementing driver only operations:

“By far the biggest financial benefits arise from a reduction in staff salaries. This can arise from employing fewer staff, and from replacing guards with cheaper non-safety critical on-train staff.”

Recently, Govia lost its court case and appeal seeking an injunction to stop ASLEF taking industrial action. That’s a good thing because unions are striking to protect passenger safety now, and for a safer railway in the future.

9 Responses to No Mr Grayling, the #SouthernStrike is very much about safety

  1. Charlotte Peters Rock
    Dec 16th 2016, 4:40 am

    Public safety is being deliberately compromised by this government, both on rail’ by removing vital guards, and on motorways, by removing vital hard shoulders. Who voted these buffers in? You should hang your heads in shame!

  2. Richard Gutteridge
    Dec 16th 2016, 10:18 am

    I worked for British Rail in a specialist IR role with train drivers and learnt that the key to good IR/ER is the relationship between managers and their union counterparts. What this dispute exemplifies is what happens when that trust is lost. And even now (nationalised) BR has gone, government are getting involved in things where they have no competence and making things worse

  3. Barry Pitney
    Dec 16th 2016, 10:26 am

    Safety is and should be the number one priority in any public service.Guards are an essential part of that safety and have to undergo a lot of training.If for any reason the train is derailed it is the guard that runs back to lay detonators to warn other trains of its presence.Just one of the very many safety features of a guard.

  4. Mary gillan
    Dec 16th 2016, 10:38 am

    The unlying actions in this dispute is about profit for share holders, and another step to break down union support for staff, on a par with the miners in the 80’s. Guards are essential for safety, while the train is travelling the passenger is vulnerable to abuse, theft, assault. Fare evaders will increase even more than now. And the most densely travelled area in the country is being used as a testing ground for possibly national redundancies. This is about shareholders money and challenging unions, not safety. Support the guards.

  5. Ian
    Dec 16th 2016, 12:08 pm

    The Rail Safety Standards Board report you use does not support your case, it does the opposite. You miss off the next line: “However, with the right technical and operational mitigations the analysis has considered the provision of DOO(P) to be safety neutral.” If you are going to use source material, it’s important to use it correctly and in context.

  6. Jan Jervis
    Dec 17th 2016, 7:27 am

    As a woman who uses trains a lot and travels alone, I have come across drunks,and some unwanted attention and have felt scared at times and always been greatful to see a guard, I feel much safer knowing there is someone to call on also what if someone takes ill who do you turn to ? You can’t go to the driver … KEEP THE GUARDS

  7. Jonathan Dring
    Dec 17th 2016, 5:08 pm

    Safe despatch of a long DOO train on a crowded curved platform requires two station-staff on the platform and one on a straight platform. Hence a Guard/Conductor is not necessary.
    On-board customer safety/security and boarding/ alighting assistance can be done by on-board customer service/safety staff. They could also do the train despatch at lightly used platforms/unmanned stations instead of station staff. On-board customer service/safety staff are less expensive than Guards/Conductors, can be trained in less time and are thus easier to recruit. Few DOO railways use on-board customer service/safety staff – they would be a good solution for Southern’s (and Thameslink’s) 12-car trains. Problem solved: Costs reduced, more but less costly staff employed, customers satisfied, safety maintained and unions get more members.

  8. Jack Dash
    Dec 17th 2016, 6:11 pm

    The reason Govia can keep the dispute going is that the terms of their franchise mean they lose no money by prolonging it – a win-win for the Govt in what is Grayling’s ‘politically motivated’ strike!

  9. John
    Dec 18th 2016, 2:22 am

    My late wife worked on the railways and one thing she mentioned to me was that she had a track licence when she worked in the industry.
    If trained personnel are needed to walk the track they have to have licenses, do they not?
    This means that the less well-trained staff envisaged would not be able to lay track warning signs and place detonators on the lines in the event of a train breaking down, thus endangering all the staff and passengers on board the train.
    More importantly, the Tories are fascist-lite.
    They were prepared to treat with the Nazis in 1940 until Labour MPs insisted that Churchill be brought in as Prime Minister and Attlee as Deputy Prime Minister.
    More recently, Thatcher went out of her way to destroy mass membership trade unions in the areas of shipbuilding, steel-making and coal-mining.
    Her successors are equally intent on destroying the railway-workers unions too; indeed, the Tories will not cease until they have destroyed the entirety of the trade unions movement in Britain.
    That is what this dispute is really all about.
    All the unions should get behind the railway workers in this dispute as losses in one area will inevitably be followed by more losses elsewhere.