Both train drivers’ union ASLEF and the RMT, which represents conductors, have raised safety concerns about the potential loss of a second-safety critical member of staff on trains as a result of changes proposed by Govia Thameslink Railway.
Earlier this month a report by Ian Prosser, HM’s chief inspector of railways and director of rail safety at the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), concluded that the proposed form of train dispatch by GTR ‘meets legal requirements and can be operated safely’, but it was labelled a ‘complete whitewash’ by the RMT.
But in a statement rail groups Hastings and Bexhill and the surrounding areas said there were still ‘a deep and unresolved dispute over the safety of driver-only operation on our local train fleet’.
According to St Leonards & Hastings Rail Improvement, Bexhill Rail Action Group, Ore Transport Group, Marshlink Action Group, and Three Oaks & Winchelsea Action on Rail Improvement: “It would appear that our local MPs, along with the travelling public have been misled.
“To clarify, what the ORR report says: ‘In short, ORR’s view is that with suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff in place the proposed form of train dispatch intended by GTR-Southern meets legal requirements for safe operation’.
“The reality is that none of these things are yet in place on the East Coastway route between Haywards Heath or Brighton and Ore. The majority of stations are unstaffed or part-staffed.”
The groups also raised recent cases where no staff were available to help passengers with special needs, such as wheelchair users, on to Southern trains.
The statement added: “Our MPs have been presented with partial information suggesting that because other parts of the network are DOO-compliant this status applies to all Southern stations. Not so.
“The trains themselves may or may not be safe for DOO operation, subject to modification.
“But currently our local stations are not, and Southern knows it. Our MPs must insist that every local station is independently inspected and certified by The Health and Safety Executive as safe for DOO operations.
“There have been references to an agreement to a parallel dispute between Abellio Scotrail (ASR) and RMT. “The difference is that ASR are dependant on fare income to survive and needed to move forward, whereas GTR are taxpayer funded and can drag the dispute out indefinitely.
“Another industry quote, this time from the Rail Safety and Standards Board (March 2015) to the train operating companies: ‘Adopting a strategy of guard redundancies delivers the greatest economic benefit, while a strategy of staff turnover and redeployment of guards delivers (technical jargon)’.”
Huw Merriman, Bexhill and Battle MP, said: “I would invite passengers to read the five page report from the Office of Rail and Road’s independent regulator for Rail Safety, Mr Ian Prosser, and his accompanying statement.
“It is available on the ORR’s website and my own. Passengers can then make up their own mind as to whether Mr Prosser regards driver controlled operations as safe.
“Like any regulator involved in safety, there is a general requirement that the practice requires suitable procedures, staff and equipment.
“This is as it should be and is essential for any safety-critical industry operation. Mr Prosser’s accompanying statement explained that the report “confirmed that Driver Only Operation is a safe method of working”.
“As the report explains, the practice of driver controlled trains has been through the health and safety risk assessments and its findings do not highlight any issue as being safety-deficient.
“It is therefore not right to say that no safety requirements are in place. Indeed, in one of the numerous Parliamentary Transport Select Committee inquiries on Southern which I sat on, I asked the unions, management and the regulator if the requisite parties had visited stations.
“I was told that Southern and the drivers union ASLEF had visited 300 platforms across Southern to conduct safety reviews. Mr Prosser’s report welcomes the extra measures Southern are implementing to enhance their operation.
“The RMT union appear to be focussing their arguments around guards being safe as well. This suggests we are moving on from arguments about safety.
“We have the best rail safety record in Europe, and we operate the same practice which Southern are implementing on 30 per cent of the UK’s network and have used it for over 30 years. I hope that the unions and Southern can reach an agreement and both parties can get our trains moving again on a daily basis.”
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