Labour guarantee: a guard on every train will attend to passengers and help the frail or disabled to board safely
If a Labour government is elected, years of struggle against the privatised railways’ attempts to remove guards and have driver only operated (DOO) trains will come to an end.
It is alleged that government has made the removal of guards a condition of private operators’ franchises and has also included a clause in them stating that taxpayers will underwrite any losses the operators incur by provoking strike action.
In 2016, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg derided this cause as making a ‘fuss’ and described the protesting unions as indulging in a power play; She explained the motivation for removing the guards: “One former senior minister tells me that “successive secretaries of state” in charge at Transport have wanted to “get rid of guards on trains”. The ambition is to bring down the cost of rail travel for the tax payer and the train passenger”. She forgot to mention
- the companies’ desire to avoid paying for these guards, swelling profits and payments to shareholders,
- incidents where guards have been needed to cope with disruptive passengers; as an RMT report said: “Only a fool would suggest that drivers can drive a train while sorting out drunken and/or antisocial behaviour in the carriages behind them”
- or ‘lifechanging’ incidents such as this: ITV reported that at West Wickham station south London, in April 2015, a passenger was dragged along the platform at West Wickham station, south London, when the 11am Southeastern service from London Cannon Street to Hayes (Kent) – driver-only operated – while her backpack strap was trapped in the doors of the train. As the train moved off, she fell onto the platform and then through the gap between the platform and train, suffering life-changing injuries.
As RAIL concludes: there remain (even in the eyes of the most ardent DOO supporters) security risks for the train’s passengers without another member of staff present, be they called guards, conductors or train managers.
A list of incidents given in a 2016 government dossier ended: When there is an emergency the guard can take charge especially if the train driver is incapacitated”. But this link, cited in 2017, no longer leads to the dossier.
Racheal Maskell, Labour’s Shadow Rail Minister, said:
“The railway should liberate people and enable everyone to play their full role in our society and economy, but the Conservative Party’s expansion of DOO has knowingly degraded the rights of older and disabled passengers in the face of protests from passenger and disabled people’s groups. It is remarkable that the Government and private train companies have pursued this discriminatory policy even when it provoked fierce industrial disputes resulting in significant strike action.
“Labour’s publicly owned railway will be for everyone, not just the able-bodied, which is why we will enable staff to deliver a safe and accessible railway for all.”
Earlier this month, West Midlands Trains workers staged a weekend stoppage in their continuing campaign against the removal of safety critical guards from trains. An RMT spokesman said:
“The safety and accessibility of the travelling public is this trade union’s priority and should take priority over the profits of the train operator and we believe that this is an important election issue for the people of the West Midlands. “We will not allow the drive for profit to override the core issue of safe and accessible services for all on West Midlands Trains and we stand fi rm on that very basic principle. We will never compromise on the issues of passenger safety and accessibility.”
The union remains available for talks with West Midlands Trains, which is a subsidiary of Dutch state-owned rail operator Abellio.
Will common humanity prevail: the record indicated that it will not unless a Labour government is elected.
2015: The appalling risks which can arise on a DOO train were outlined convincingly here: http://www.railmagazine.com/trains/current-trains/the-pros-and-cons-of-driver-only-operation/page/2
And many issues of Private Eye over the last four years have covered the issue and several DOO related accidents in detail .