As many SKWAWKBOX readers will know, the rail union RMT is in dispute with train operators in various parts of the country over their plans to remove guards from their trains in favour of ‘DOO‘ (driver-only operation).
Employers and the Establishment media have painted rail workers – like the mistreated refuse workers in Birmingham – as selfish hard-liners who don’t care about the inconvenience they impose on the public. But the unions have always insisted their primary concern is about the safety of passengers.
And new evidence shows they’re right.
The RSSB (Rail Safety and Standards Board) is – at least theoretically – an independent rail safety body. However, its directors are primarily senior directors of industry companies and it has been accused – supported by leaked evidence – by the RMT of collusion with other ‘independent’ bodies.
In 2015, the RSSB prepared a report titled “Evaluating technological solutions to support driver only operation train dispatch“.
The RSSB site has a page for the report – but no report is embedded there:
However, the SKWAWKBOX has obtained a copy of the original – a full copy is available at the end of this article. For a rail safety board report, it focuses very much on cost – according to the RMT because the remit was to support the implementation of the McNulty Report on cost-cutting for rail operators.
The report outlines various options for achieving DOO and discusses the cost-benefit and pay-back scenarios for each. But it also makes a remarkable admission concerning safety:
‘[D]oes not create additional undesired events but may increase the likelihood… or increase the severity‘.
At first glance, this appears contradictory – an increased likelihood of an event means more, or additional, events. The SKWAWKBOX asked the RSSB to clarify this statement and received the following:
The question is based on a misreading of the report content. In lay person’s terms, what it concluded was that DOO did not create any new ways of harming people (ie any new hazards). It also stated that the safety risk (based on frequency and consequences of possible accidents) needed to be assessed for any local environment in which DOO was implemented. This is simply a restating of the legal duties to risk assess, and such activity is universally undertaken on the rail network.
Our recent analysis shows that, based on data collected by the industry workforce, passenger journeys on the mainline railway in Great Britain are significantly safer than journeys on other comparable transport modes, and than other rail networks in Europe, and train dispatch risks are a very small proportion of these risks. Any differences in risk that might exist between different dispatch methods is too small to estimate in practice.
However, the wording of the report that concerns increased probability and potential severity of events appears to do more than merely ‘restate legal duties to assess’ – it clearly states a clear possibility of more frequent and severe incidents.
The RSSB also pointed to a recent report that it claims reaches a different conclusion. Analysis of that report will feature in a later article, but it only addresses safety issues directly relating to the starting and stopping of trains and related boarding/alighting.
It does not address other safety risks, such as fire, assault or unscheduled evacuations in case of breakdown or other incident. These risks were emphatically included when the SKWAWKBOX spoke to John Tilley, the RMT’s North-West Regional Organiser. He told the this blog:
The RSSB’s brief for that report was all about finding ways to implement McNulty’s recommended ways of cutting cost, which were reducing staff numbers, down-skilling and getting rid of ticket offices and station staff – all things that will make passengers less safe off the train as well as on it.
A lot of people in the industry think McNulty would have come back with different findings if he’d been reporting to a Labour government instead of a Tory one, but we’ll never know unless he mentions it in a memoir. But what’s clear is that it was about reducing cost.
He was told that the UK rail industry is 40% more expensive than its counterparts in Europe – and it is. But there was no need for an expensive report, anyone could have told the government that if you fragment the industry into a lot of different companies, each with their own structures, research, overheads and profits, you’re going to push cost up.
The European operators are state-owned and get the best economies of scale – but McNulty reported that the UK had too many staff, that wages were too high etc – even though rail-workers in Europe are just as numerous and high-paid. That suited the Tories, of course.
That led to the push toward DOO and the government is ignoring the risks to passengers – and not just getting on and off trains, although that’s obviously a major consideration.
If you’ve got a guard on a train, he or she can intervene if passengers are threatened or take ill. If there’s a fire, the guard can try to put it out or get the passengers safely off the train. Just last month there was a fire on a MerseyRail train, but it’s barely known about – that wouldn’t suit their agenda at all.
There have been incidents only recently in which guards have protected people from assault, women from sexual assault. They say there’ll be CCTV – there’s CCTV on trains now, what they mean is it’ll be upgraded a bit – but CCTV can only record an assault, not intervene.
The irony is that UK rail companies are mostly owned by state-owned operators from other countries. MerseyRail is half-owned by Abellio from the Netherlands. Arriva is Deutsche Bahn, there’s French, Italians, Chinese.
The passengers are completely behind us, they all want to keep the guards. But when I said that to the [Liverpool City Region Combined Authority], do you know what they said?
“They’ll get used to anything”. That’s the attitude we’re fighting – and people need to be aware of it but the mainstream media won’t tell them.
The ‘battle for hearts and minds’ in this dispute is essential and information – or misinformation – will play a huge role in the outcome.
The government, media and rail operators want us to believe DOO is safe and technology means guards are no longer needed; that the rail-workers and their unions are just causing trouble – but the RSSB’s report for preparing for DOO admitted that there were safety concerns with its introduction.
Which is what the unions have been telling us all along.
Full RSSB report: rssb-report-on-doo
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