15 November 2019
RMT Press Office:
AS RAIL UNION RMT prepares for strike action tomorrow in defence of Guards’ jobs on West Midlands Trains, the union called on the government to stop promoting Driver Only Operation. The call came after the publication of a secret report commissioned by the DfT and the Rail Delivery Group confirmed that it means less assistance for disabled people on the railways.
The report, which the government had previously refused to publish in spite of Freedom of Information requests from the Association of British Commuters and RMT, identifies a range of ways in which Driver Only Operation creates barriers to accessibility:
• “There will be no member of staff on the train to identify on-board passengers requiring assistance.”
• “Staff will be available to assist passengers if they have pre-booked assistance or at staffed stations, if platform staff are available [emphasis added] for spontaneous requests. The driver would not normally be expected to leave the cab to support a passenger, except in an emergency.”
• “There will be no member of staff available on the train to assist any passengers who have boarded, except in an emergency”.
• Driver Controlled Operation trains, which can run without a second member of staff, often end up effectively running under driver only operation conditions, which ‘removes support for assistance on-train and at un-staffed locations.’
As the report shows, disabled people themselves identify ‘providing more staff at stations’ and ‘providing more staff on trains’ as the most important ways in which accessibility on the railways could be improved.
Particularly awkward reading for the Train Operating Companies, many of whom have tried to remove safety critical staff from trains, was the finding that ‘having an additional member of on-board staff is critical for wheelchair users of passengers with mobility impairments’.
In spite of this, the report, which was funded by the DfT and the Train Operating Companies, fails to draw the obvious conclusion and recommend that Train operating companies employ and guarantee more on-board and station staff.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:
“The conclusions of this compromised, industry-sponsored report are pathetic but ironically the evidence within it is clear – Driver Only Operation is a massive problem for disabled people and they don’t want it.
“No amount of training or information leaflets is going to compensate for the fact that there are not enough staff on our stations or on-board our trains.
“The government and the Train Operating Companies need to stop looking for new ways to make money by cutting staff jobs and begin investing in creating a truly accessible railway.”
Notes to editors
1. The report , was commissioned on a confidential basis by the Department for Transport and the Rail Delivery Group from the consultancy Steer to examine the effect of different modes of train operation on disabled people as a previous, still unpublished, report had advocated the sacking of all Guards to save money.
2. RMT and the Association of British Commuters made several attempts to secure publication of the report but the Department for Transport refused. The report was finally published late last month by the Transport Select Committee without the permission of the Minister, Chris Heaton Harris, in the wider interests of transparency.
3. As revealed over the summer, the government’s own Disabled Persons Transport Advisory was deeply critical of some of the research, saying that ‘the research and Guidance Note fall very considerably short of articulating measures that mitigate the potentially very negative consequences of driver-only operation, when combined with unstaffed stations; a toxic combination for many disabled people that excludes them from using the rail network’. The Committee warned that the work ‘falls so far short that we believe it to be wholly inadequate as currently drafted.’
4. DPTAC also said: “The availability of staff to provide assistance is crucial to the ability of many disabled passengers (and indeed older passengers more generally) to make rail journeys. The absence of staff will be sufficient to deter many from making rail journeys at all, whilst for others it will necessitate the need to pre-book assistance, and for some the need to use an accessible taxi to reach a station where boarding assistance can be provided.” ( https://www.rmt.org.uk/news/rmt-demands-transport-secretary-puts-accessibility-first/, https://abcommuters.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/DPTACs-Letter-to-Ministers-dated-9th-April-sent-2nd-May-2.pdf