LETTER: Can MP reply?

I would like to add weight to David Hitchen’s letter of December 30.

His observations are completely factual, but require the clarification of the percentage significance of driver only-operated (DOO) trains.

Hitchens cites the Rail Accident Investigation Branch giving the number of door accidents on DOO trains as 12 with only two on trains with a driver and guard. This would mean there are six DOO train accidents for each accident on trains with a driver and guard (a ratio of 6:1).

However, that isn’t the full impact of DOO trains, as evidenced in a report by Sir Roy McNulty on the operation and economics of the rail sector: Realising the Potential of GB Rail – Final Independent Report of the Rail Value for Money Study (2011) p.200 states “Trains operated solely by the driver constitute 30 per cent of the services on the network” [nationally] meaning that services with a driver and guard comprise 70 per cent of the total.

If the entire system is changed to DOO trains only, the number of door accidents for the same period could theoretically rise to 40 (I stress that figure is theoretical). Other factors then have to be taken into account: there is no evidence that I have seen that highlights the methodology of implementation of DOO trains. For example, if these trains were first introduced on networks that provided a safer environment for this type of operation, then the figure of 40 could well significantly rise if this method is rolled out nationally.

In the same report there is a worrying observation: “The primary responsibilities of guards are the opening and closing of train doors and train dispatch. They also have limited operational responsibilities in the event of an incident” but there is no mention at all of their role in passenger on-board safety, such as helping disabled passengers on and off the train, passengers who are vulnerable, such as those with learning difficulties who may well travel alone, the elderly but who would be vulnerable, medical emergencies, abusive and/or intoxicated passengers and suchlike. This report was commissioned by the previous Conservative Government and it serves primarily to increase value for money, hence the social safety role of the guard is not even remarked upon.

The role of the guard is complex and I would encourage anyone reading this letter to reflect on whether they would take a late evening train from Brighton on the East or West Coast lines on their own with no guard on board. This rail company does not have a good track record (pun intended) where passenger consideration is concerned, as Southern has previously fined passengers for standing in first class compartments in overcrowded trains, so you can see why many commuters despise GoviaThamselink.

The fact that the proposed changes relating to guards are driven by the Department for Transport, who handed this franchise to GoviaThameslink in July 2015 (when the Conservatives won an overall majority) with a remit to reduce staffing levels because of the content of the report and you can see where the blame ultimately lies.

Perhaps Maria Caulfield would reply to my observations above?

Henry Page

Newhaven Heights, Newhaven