I have been pondering about the recent announcement that the new Merseyrail trains will operate without train guards yet the more I read about the project the less clear the answers become.
Take the latest issue of RAIL magazine, which leads on the £460m fleet renewal. It quotes two significant things.
Firstly it says ‘It’s implementation [ i.e. no guards on the new trains] was also a key recommendation made by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, following a fatal incident at James Street Station in 2011 that resulted in the conviction of a train guard for manslaughter by gross negligence.’
Now then I think it fair to say that many folk were very uncomfortable with the guard referred to above carrying the can for that accident. I previously blogged about it and a later similar incident:-
Of course the clear implication of this is that trains will be safer without guards. Now how can that be?
But then in the same RAIL article the magazine quotes the Chairman of the Merseytravel Committee saying ‘In an idea world we’d like to have a second member of staff [a train guard?] on every train, but there aren’t resources to do that.’
Now then, does this second quote not make it seem that money was at least a significant deciding factor? Well that’s how it reads to me for what my opinion is worth.
But aren’t the guards are already there doing the job? On that basis keeping them in that job would not increase the pay bill at all surely.
Are we to surmise then that, what may be the case is that, the savings from taking away the train guards are being used to help pay for the new trains?
This feels like wading through mud to me but the bottom line is how will a train without a train guard be safer or at least as safe as one with one? And I come back to a question I have asked before. What will a driver do when he/she is responsible for the passengers on a train (and I mean specifically here those who are acting dangerously to themselves and others) as well as driving the train?
Ignoring the high profile politics of this issue (as presently highlighted by the Southern Trains dispute, which is fundamentally about the same issue) this is about safety and the powers that be need to try to convince us all that trains without guards will be at least as safe as those with guards. I for one will need a lot of convincing.
And finally, its no surprise at all that the RMT is now balloting its members for industrial action over the loss of train guards on Merseyrail. Well Merseytravel/Merseyrail you started this dispute, how are you going to end it?