More on the train guards (or the lack of them) on the newly ordered Merseyrail rolling stock

I am a regular reader of the The RAILWAY Magazine and unsurprisingly its January 2017 edition gives prominence to the £460m contract awarded to Swiss manufacturer Stadler to build the next generation of trains for the Merseyrail electrified network.

All this we already know but one aspect of the Railway Magazine article jumped out at me. Maybe it has been said before and possibly I just missed it but I thought this quote was quite telling ‘The new trains will be able to run under driver-only operation (DOO); following a fatal platform accident in 2011, the Office of Road and Rail has been working closely with Merseyrail to achieve the aim of DOO at some future point.’

Firstly, it seems to me that the ‘decision’ to go with driver-only operation was probably taken, if not by formal resolution by public transport body Merseytravel, quite some time ago. Remember this:- But a spokeswoman for the travel body said it could not reveal whether bidders to run the service were proposing driver-only trains or not, citing commercial confidentiality laws. That quote is from the Liverpool Echo dated 28th July 2016.

Secondly, this is the first time I have seen a direct connection made with the 2011 accident and driver-only operation. Is the implication now that the powers that be are saying that if DOO had been in operation back then the accident may have/would have been avoided? Or is it simply a smokescreen being thrown up to try to justify DOO?

This whole procurement process does not exactly fill me with a huge amount of confidence. And can there be any wonder that rail union RMT is feeling like they have been shunted into the sidings whilst things have been progressed elsewhere?

2 thoughts on “More on the train guards (or the lack of them) on the newly ordered Merseyrail rolling stock

  1. Phil Holden says:

    Hmm. Most of the rail franchise agreements are published and you can see them, for example at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/public-register-of-rail-passenger-franchise-agreements. But not, it would appear Merseyrail, which is let not by the Dept of Transport but by Merseytravel. The only other train company franchise not let by DTp is London Overground and – hello!! – Merseyrail and London Overground have the largest subsidies of any of the TOCs. A coincidence? Merseyrail’s franchise is unusually long – 25 years, most of them are about a third of that – and it was let in 2003 with 5 year review points. So quite when the bidder would have suggested DOO and contracted to provide it isn’t clear. But with most other franchises we would know this – why is Merseytravel so secretive? There have been freedom of information requests to publish the agreement, for example one made here in August which appears only to have been acknowledged so far: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/current_merseyrail_franchise_agr.

    But as the taxpayer still subsidises the railways to the tune of £3.5bn on the last published figures I think it is perfectly reasonable for the bodies who let the contracts to challenge bidders to say how they will reduce the subsidy, working within the relevant safety approvals. After all, that money could be spent on the health service instead.

    What seems strange to me is that the government then leaves the train companies to take on the unions in implementing the proposals instead of finding a mechanism to resolve this at the proposal stage.

    • Thanks for this Phil, very interesting. I have followed through your link to the FoI request and it seems that eventually the requested information was provided after a few pushes and shoves so to speak. Like you I do worry that there may well be an underlying reluctance to make information public by public bodies generally. I saw this during my time as a Borough Councillor where I sometimes wondered about what I thought were unnecessary attempts to keep matters private rather than making them public. My personal view is that disclosure should be the norm and non-disclosure very much the exception. I do wonder if councillors, who are not legal experts of course, are too often unable to challenge what experienced local government officers are trying to keep private? After all the person a councillor will usually refer to over such a matter will be a legal officer employed by the Council – how independent is that?

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