11 October 2016
RMT Press Office:
Union calls on authority to abandon ‘reckless’ plans for driver-only trains.
MERSEYTRAVEL’S complete failure for more than six months to answer key safety questions over plans to remove guards from Merseyrail trains “tells us everything we need to know”, the network’s biggest union says today.
Three attempts to get urgent answers from the transport authority have been met by stony silence, and RMT has again called on Merseytravel to abandon “reckless” plans that would place passengers and rail workers at unacceptable risk.
Since the union first wrote to Merseytravel chair Liam Robinson in March, emergencies have taken place on the railway network – one of them on Merseyrail itself – which have underlined the critical role played by guards in protecting passengers.
• On August 25, a safety-trained Merseyrail guard protected the train, 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.
• On September 16, a trained guard protected a train derailed by a landslide at Watford, carrying out all the safety protocols laid down in the railway rule book, and again leading passengers to safety while the driver was incapacitated in the front coach, which had become detached from the rest of the train.
RMT regional organiser John Tilley’s original letter to Councillor Robinson, sent on March 23, asked how a fire or derailment in Merseyrail’s single-bore tunnels could be dealt with without safety-qualified guards. (text below).
A reminder sent to Cllr Robinson on August 25 elicited no response on the safety issues.
A third letter sent on September 27, citing the recent incidents above, has again had no response.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:
“No spin-doctor’s words about putting safety first can get around the cold, hard fact that these latest incidents would have put lives at serious risk had there not been trained guards present to deal with them.
“The deafening silence in response to our safety concerns and these recent emergencies completely vindicates our argument for retaining the safety-critical guards on Merseyrail.
“To continue along the path to driver-only operation in these circumstances would be nothing short of reckless.”
Note to editors: RMT’s letter to Merseytravel chair Liam Robinson seeking answers on the union’s safety concerns is below:
March 23, 2016
New Merseyrail rolling stock – safety role of the guard
Further to our previous correspondence and conversations, I am taking this opportunity to write to you and your committee members in order to update you on the united joint rail-union campaign to retain safety critical guards on the proposed new fleet of Merseyrail trains.
Last weekend the North West TUC’s regional conference unanimously agreed to support the campaign to retain guards on Merseyrail trains. The conference fully endorsed the serious safety concerns that we have over the operation of trains with only one safety critical member of train crew aboard – ie in DOO/DCO mode – not least in the single-bore underground sections of the Merseyrail network.
The Regional Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in particular expressed his concerns with regards to this mode of operation.
So far we have had no response to the specific safety concerns we have raised, and we would ask that the Merseytravel committee give full attention to the possible consequences of a serious incident involving a driver-only operated train in an underground single-bore tunnel section of the network, such as a fire or derailment, in which the driver is incapacitated.
• 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?
There is no credible response to these questions that does not involve a second safety-qualified member of traincrew – a guard. I am sure you and your committee would agree that only the safest method of operation of the Merseyrail network is acceptable to the public of the City Region.
Your committee should be made aware of the recent Rail Accident Investigation Bureau (RAIB) investigation into the near-fatal accident at West Wickham in April 2015, in which a passenger had the straps of her bag trapped in the power-operated train doors and the driver of the DOO-operated train could not see via the CCTV screen that the bag straps were trapped. The driver took power and started to drive the train off, and the woman was dragged along the platform until eventually freeing herself. Lucky to survive the incident at all, the passenger received ‘life-changing injuries’.
Unfortunately incidents involving passengers being caught in power-operated doors are becoming more and more frequent – we believe as a direct consequence of the removal of guards elsewhere on the national railway network.
Your committee will be aware that a Merseyrail guard, one of my members, is to stand trial in July as a result of just such an incident, despite being completely cleared of any wrongdoing by the safety investigation report. In this incident, in which a passenger had fallen under the train, the guard was able to make sure that the train did not move. Had the train been operated in DOO/DCO mode, it is highly likely that the driver would not have known that a passenger was under the train and would have started the train, potentially cutting her in two.
Where trains are operated in DOO mode, the risks of the train moving whilst someone is trapped are significantly higher, and it is clear that the safest method of train operation remains with a safety trained guard.
I should also 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 and that we will not operate any driver-only trains on Merseyrail.
The other development since we last spoke is in relation to the announcement by the new Northern Rail franchise holder, Arriva Rail North, that it has awarded a contract for 98 new trains to the Spanish company CAF. ARN has revealed that the specification for these new trains is ‘multi-operational’, meaning that is they will be built to be operated in either DOO or conventional mode.
I have met so far with two of the five bidders for the 50 new Merseyrail trains, both of which have confirmed that they can build the trains with any type of door operation or, as ARN has ordered, with multi-operational capability. All five have also stated that a cab-based DOO CCTV screen configuration is in fact more expensive to build.
It is quite clear that the idea that Merseytravel will be guided by the bidders into what specification of operation is built into the new trains is without foundation, and that the authority can have any kind of train configuration that it chooses.
It is certainly not the prerogative of the bidders to tell your authority how the trains should be configured, but rather for the customer to determine the specification, just as ARN has done, and indeed to specify a cheaper design with conventional operation – ie with a guard.
Finally, I would remind you of the policy resolutions opposing DOO trains that you and a number of our fellow party comrades have voted for in their constituent council chambers, and would hope that you and they will act in a way consistent with those resolutions in the Combined Authority committee chamber.
It is clearly time to rule out any contemplation of removing guards from our Merseyrail trains, and I look forward to a resolution of this issue that keeps in place the best possible safety regime that the people of Liverpool City Region and our members expect and deserve.
RMT North West Regions