Driver only operation of trains – Have ASLEF shafted fellow trade union RMT?

Readers of this blog site will know I have been keeping a close eye on Driver Only Operation (DOO) of trains, with particular reference to the industrial dispute involving franchise operator Merseyrail and the RMT union where removal of train guards is planned when new Stadler rolling stock is delivered in a couple of years time.

Merseyrail’s new Stadler Trains, to be delivered in a couple of years time, are at the heart of the dispute about driver only operated trains.

In case you are not up to speed a brief recap – Merseytravel the transport committee of the Liverpool City Region (a public sector body) decided to accept a tender for new trains that can/will run without train guards. Unsurprisingly, the RMT union which represents train guards said we are not having that. Merseytravel in effect then passed the dispute, which they had created, onto Merseyrail the private sector franchise operator of trains on Merseyside – a sort this out, we are washing our hands of it type situation if ever I saw one. So Merseyrail find themselves in dispute with their own train guards union over a matter (that they had little say in?) but one that they have to accept and in effect justify and promote! The dispute is ongoing with little sign of a solution so far despite many Merseyrail RMT strike days.

So what’s ASLEF got to do with this dispute. Well they represent train drivers and on the infamous Southern rail franchise where the most significant dispute over DOO has been taking place over a long time period a settlement has recently been reached with ASLEF. It in effect buys them out of the dispute down on Southern. And buys them out could seemingly not be a more appropriate phrase as they, the train drivers, have gained a 28.5% pay rise over 3 years! What’s more we are told that other than in exceptional circumstances a second safety trained member of staff (an On Board Supervisor or OBS) will be on board all Southern trains – is that not all but alternative speak for a train guard?

Ironically, the Southern dispute was being propped up by the Department for Transport who were seemingly out to break trade union refusal to accept more DOO trains. Well it’s cost the DfT quite a few bob in the end and train guards with a different name but doing a remarkably similar job!

The RMT union though are far from happy, not least with their comrades in ASLEF who they seem to see as having taken the King’s Shilling so to speak.

So how will the dispute resolution on Southern affect Merseyrail? Well you can bet the RMT are probably more motivated to fight on than they were before, if their members will continue to back prolonged strike action. The guards and indeed RMT seem to be holding the public support they have had since the dispute started as rail users, particularly female ones, want to keep an on-board second person for customer safety reasons. Merseyrail are only offering this facility on some trains, where problems and disorder are more likely as far as I can see. On that basis resolution of the dispute would seem to hang on Merseyrail extending the second on-board member of staff to all trains?

As a lifelong trade unionist seeing ASLEF and the RMT being caught in a divide and rule type situation is unfortunate. However, sadly trade unions do have the ability to act in very selfish ways that they usually claim to be very much opposed to and it seems that the old adage ‘everyone has their price’ still applies.

So Merseytravel/Merseyrail. Let’s bring this dispute to an end. Time to back off and put second on-board safety critical member of staff on every one of your new Stadler trains and you can call them whatever you like so long as they look and act like train guards.

Merseyrail – So just why has public sector body Merseytravel decided there will be no Guards on trains?

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?

Merseytravel & Merseyrail – Have ‘travel’ dropped ‘rail’ in it?’


I was taken by a short article in a recent Merseytravel staff briefing which reads:-

RMT Union story

We received a number of enquiries regarding the RMT announcement regarding a dispute with Merseyrail in relation to new trains which were directed to Merseyrail who issued a statement. This was picked up by several local and regional media including the Liverpool Echo.

Firstly lets get a few explanations in

The railway unions are ASLEF and RMT

The public transport body for the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside is Merseytravel which is a Committee of the Liverpool City Region. The Liverpool City Region is presently run by the leaders of the 6 local authorities across Merseyside. These leaders in turn nominate councillors to sit on the Merseytravel Committee.

The current private sector operator of the trains on the Merseyrail 3rd rail electrified suburban network is unsurprisingly called Merseyrail.It has a franchise agreement to run the Merseyrail network until 2028 if memory serves. They were awarded that franchise by Merseytravel.

There is every reason to think that those who are not close to the goings on of the rail industry on Merseyside will confuse and transpose the names Merseytravel and Merseyrail. Indeed, the similar names must lead to confusion as to who is responsible for what. That may of course be convenient for some?

Now back to the reason for this posting. You see the quote above from the Merseytravel staff briefing is revealing as in effect the public transport body for our area is seemingly saying to the press don’t ask us about the operation of the new trains we have just ordered ask Merseyrail the operator of the trains.

But just hang on a minute who ordered the new trains? Yes you’ve guessed correctly it is Merseytravel. And who chose to select a bidder to build the trains – again Merseytravel. So who decided that the new trains would be DOO (Driver Only Operation) i.e. No train Guard? Well to me it must be Merseytravel yet again. It was they who put out the tender for the building of the trains, they who selected the winning bidder (Swiss firm Stadler) and they who will own trains that are not intended to run with Train Guards.

On that basis why are Merseytravel saying that they are telling the media to speak to Merseyrail about the potential for an industrial dispute over the removal of Train Guards? Yes, Merseyrail will be the employer which the unions will be legally in dispute with but the creation of that dispute, should it get to that point, will have been via the decision making of the public sector body Merseytravel!

Work that one out! And is this ‘arrangement’ not very similar to what is going on with the Southern Rail dispute presently i.e. the public sector (in Southern’s case the Department for Transport) making decisions that a private sector operator then has to implement whilst the public sector hands are washed of it all?

My thanks to Phil for the thoughts behind this particular posting.

BTW, just a thought. It’s not so long ago that there was a big fuss about new trains being built abroad instead of in the UK. I have not heard a peep about Merseyrail’s new trains being Swiss built. And is this not even more odd now we have as a nation confirmed our wish (not mine I would add!) to be insular and inward facing? As I say just a thought.