Merseytravel respond to a customer’s concerns about the removal of Guards from the new Merseyrail trains fleet

A new Stadler Merseyrail train artist impression

Merseyrail passenger Jen Robertson has recently raised concerns about the removal of train guards from the new fleet of Stadler trains on order for this rail franchise. The response to her concerns from Merseytravel is below.*

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Thank you for your e-mail about the new fleet of trains for the Merseyrail network.

As you may be aware, a decision was made on the 16th December 2016 by elected councillors and council leaders of the Merseytravel Committee and the Combined Authority in the Liverpool City Region, to approve the purchase of a new fleet of trains for the Merseyrail network to replace the current life expired fleet, some of which are nearly 40 years old. These trains will be owned by the city region and operated by Merseyrail. Merseyrail will not gain financially from the new trains.

I was sorry to learn of your concerns around the new trains, which we believe will deliver a quicker, safer and more reliable rail service to our customers in the future. I can assure you that you will continue to see our staff as you travel across the network, including a new team of on-board colleagues that will play a key role in supporting our customers. The trains themselves will be safer with facilities like CCTV, emergency intercoms to summon assistance and clear lines of sight throughout the length of the vehicle to reduce blind spots with the potential for crime/antisocial behaviour. Please be assured we do fully understand yours and other customers concerns, and will continue to work to make our system ever safer. We are also working very closely with our colleagues to resolve the ongoing dispute.

Merseytravel have worked extensively with customers during the development of the proposals for the new trains, including carrying out dedicated workshops with members of the local community, co-ordinated by the independent national passenger organisation, Transport Focus. The workshops have directly supported the development of the design of the trains which were approved the Combined Authority in December.

I hope this further information helps to reassure you that the new trains will offer a safer and much improved customer experience for passengers on our network in the future. Please do contact me again if you wish to discuss this any more.

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Of course this is just one side of the story, a story which is leading to a great deal of industrial unrest in the rail industry both here on Merseyside and across other rail franchises too where the guards are being removed.

For me the feeling that the guards are being removed more for cost cutting purposes than anything else is troubling. I am also unsure as to how a couple of recent accidents on Merseyrail, where guards have seemingly been blamed for passenger injury, plays into the decision to removed guards. The same decision making process will still need to be made by the driver when the guards are removed so how can an already busy driver be better at making such decisions than a guard?

I remain troubled by the removal of guards from trains.

* Merseyrail is the private sector company which runs the franchise in the Greater Merseyside area.

Merseytravel is the public sector Committee of the Liverpool City Region which controls the franchise.

4 thoughts on “Merseytravel respond to a customer’s concerns about the removal of Guards from the new Merseyrail trains fleet

  1. nigel hunter says:

    Scenario. No guard. A fight ensues between 2 passengers. There are serious injuries. Does the driver continue to the next station radioing for help or stop the train endangering the whole line/system? Is the driver then having to be trained in 1st Aid to deal with the incident causing delay, a possible crash?The guard could cope with this radioing ahead for an ambulance and the driver continues. The guard is a safety measure in case of emergencies. Yes it is a cost cutting measure.There will be unknown incidents that a guard can cope with.These unknowns should be pointed out.

  2. nigel hunter says:

    Re my previous comment. Unknowns can happen on ANY train system and they have to be considered.

  3. Phil Holden says:

    The Rail Safety and Standards Board has assessed driver controlled operation, which is used on 30% of the British mainline network, over a 15 year period without finding any increased risk from dispatching a train without a guard being present (see https://www.rssb.co.uk/hot-topics/driver-controlled-operation). Rest assured they will have spent millions on commissioning and reviewing very thorough research on the matter. The driver has no other job to do at the point when the doors are to be closed. Having a 2nd person in this operation introduces risk rather than removing it. Issues like those raised by Nigel are actually best addressed by a customer service “train manager” who doesn’t have to focus on opening and closing doors. But Merseyrail is not committing to having that role on every train. It may have been assessed that, at quiet times and with short journeys between stations on Merseyrail, a 2nd person on every train can’t be justified. We are then into the realms of passenger perceptions of safety rather than any realistic assessment of the risks. Forgive me for being a cynic but I believe the unions are opposed to changing the role of the guard because the customer service job is probably a lower pay grade job than a current guard. Unlike the RSSB, the unions have just a bit of a vested interest. Eventually, of course, it is the driver’s job that will go and the customer service job that will remain, with automatic train operation.

    • Challenging points Phil but the bottom line is that passengers seem to be on the union side in this debate. The other odd thing here is that the Merseytravel politicians who made the decision to go guardless on the new Merseyrail trains seem to be very quiet i.e. they are letting Merseyrail, a private sector franchise operator, impose the political decision and take the flak as well!

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