14 December 2016
RMT Press Office:
Guard’s calm intervention after sex-attack underlines need to scrap driver-only plans, RMT tells Merseytravel
THE CALM and decisive action of a safety-trained Merseyrail guard in facing down a sex-attacker and protecting the woman passenger he had assaulted and tried to rob underlines the “sheer, reckless stupidity” of plans to scrap guards, the network’s biggest union says today.
As Merseytravel councillors prepare to vote on Friday (Dec 16) on plans that could see all guards removed from Merseyrail and the introduction of driver-only trains, RMT demanded that councillors respect the huge weight of public opinion to retain guards.
The incident, on December 6, in which a Northern Line guard led the assault victim – a woman travelling alone at night – to the safety of his cab, alerted police and ensured that she was able to get home safely, illustrates exactly why we need guards, the union says
RMT has today, for the third time, written to Merseytravel chair Liam Robinson (text below) seeking answers to key safety questions including what would happen in an emergency such as a fire or derailment in the network’s single-bore tunnels if the driver was incapacitated.
The union also points to the incident on August 25, in which a Merseyrail guard isolated the electric rail and evacuated passengers to safety after a car collided with a train at Crescent Road level crossing in Southport, while the driver remained in his cab suffering from concussion.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:
“Merseytravel and Merseyrail have so far simply ignored the crucial safety questions we have raised about the threat of driver-only operation.
“Wherever DOO has been introduced there has been a significant increase in incidents involving passengers being caught in doors or falling under trains, and we, alongside our colleagues in Aslef, are not prepared to risk any extension of this fundamentally dangerous mode of operation.
“The serious incidents on Merseyrail in the last few months alone should make it clear that fully safety-trained guards are an essential and indispensable part of train-crew, and that Merseytravel must find a way of financing new trains that does not compromise safety.
“We know that the travelling public wants to see guards retained – and so does Merseytravel, because its own survey made that quite clear.
“We have asked Merseytravel to ensure that any new trains are designed to have a second safety-critical crew member aboard, and we have asked Merseyrail, our members’ employer, to assure us that guards will be retained on all its services.
“The bottom line is that we will not hesitate to defend our members’ jobs and public safety.”
Note for editors:
The full text of RMT Regional Organiser John Tilley’s letter to Merseyrail Committee chair Liam Robinson is below
New Merseyrail rolling stock – safety role of the guard
Further to our previous correspondence and conversations, I am writing to you once more, ahead of Friday’s closed-session meeting of the Merseytravel Committee, to emphasise the potential implications for the future safety of the Mersyrail network arising from your committee’s deliberations over new rolling stock.
You may already be aware of an incident that took place on December 6, in which a woman travelling alone at night on a Northern Line train travelling towards Kirkby was subjected to a sexual assault and an attempted robbery. I have seen the report, which shows that the guard, despite being threatened with extreme violence, discharged his duties in a text-book manner, leading the victim to a place of safety – the guard’s cab at the rear of the train – alerted the police and took the necessary steps to ensure that the passenger was passed on into the care of station staff at her destination station and from there escorted to her car.
You will already be aware of the incident on August 25 this year, in which a guard protected a train, isolated the live rail and evacuated passengers following the train’s collision with a road vehicle at the level crossing at Crescent Road in Southport.
In their different ways, each of these incidents underlines the importance of having a safety-trained guard as a member of the crew of every train.
You will also recall that on two occasions I have written to ask you to respond to six specific safety concerns connected with the consequences of an emergency such as a derailment or fire on a train being operated in driver-only mode through the single-bore tunnels on the Mersyrail network.
For ease of reference, these are:
• Who would take charge of the situation?
• Who would make the safety communications via the specialist Tunnel Emergency Communication system, or the complex GSM-R system?
• Who would arrange for the emergency isolation of the 750V DC conductor rail?
• Who would safely lead any required immediate evacuation of the train?
• Who would act to calm and control potentially panicking passengers and prevent them de-training themselves into greater danger?
I have also raised with you previously the concern we have over the increase in passenger-train interface incidents resulting in injury and death which have been recorded since the widespread introduction of driver-only operation elsewhere on the national railway network.
You have not, to date, provided any response to these concerns.
From the start of this process, as well as when I gave a presentation to your committee earlier this year, we have asked you and your fellow committee members to ensure that the specification of the trains to be ordered to replace the existing Merseyrail stock included configuration for multi-mode operation, so that it would be possible for the trains to be operated by guards.
Your consistent response on this issue has been to suggest that the mode of operation for which the stock would be configured was a matter for the bidders to determine – a self-evidently absurd proposition in that it is the obvious prerogative for the client to specify what it wants built.
We are now faced with the prospect on Friday of your committee making a final decision on the commissioning of new Merseyrail rolling stock behind closed doors under the cover of commercial sensitivity.
Our campaign has shown that the vast weight of public opinion remains with the need to retain guards; the regional TUC has backed our campaign; the Fire Brigades Union has also expressed its serious concerns with DOO/DCO operation, and indeed you and some of your fellow councillors have voted for policy resolutions in their constituent council chambers opposing any extension of DOO/DCO
In the light of all of the above we once more ask that you and your committee do not make the mistake of using passenger safety as a bargaining chip.
Finally, I would also once more draw your attention to the recent joint declaration of ASLEF and RMT in opposition to the extension of DOO/DCO, and the joint determination of our two organisations to maintain the best possible safety standards, the bottom line of which is that we will not operate any driver-only trains on Merseyrail.
I look forward to hearing that you and your Merseytravel Committee colleagues have committed the authority to retaining the essential role of guard on the Merseyrail network.
RMT North West Regions