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?

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?

Driver only trains – Study shows it makes passengers less safe – Well that’s a surprise NOT

A Merseyrail electric unit at Bootle New Strand Station.

A Merseyrail electric unit at Bootle New Strand Station.

I have commented on this matter a number of times previously, mainly with regard to Merseytravel (the Labour-run Transport Committee of Liverpool City Region) trying not to say in public what we all think they are up to i.e. getting rid of guards on Merseyrail trains when the new trains/rolling stock is ordered.

Merseytravel logo

Here’s a press release from the RMT union on the matter and it is worth reading as the commentary is on a report funded by train operating companies.

Train company funded report exposes dangers of Driver Only Operation ‎but recommends ploughing on regardless

A report funded by the Train Operating Companies own safety body has warned that introducing Driver Only Operation, and sacking guards on train services, will increase risks to passengers, RMT can reveal today.

‎Incredibly, despite that admission, the report dismisses those risks and recommends that every guard should be sacked in order to cream off another £350 million in profits.

“Evaluating technological solutions to support driver only operation train dispatch” by the Train Operating Company (TOC’s) funded Railway Safety Standards Board (RSSB) warns that,‎

“DOO does not create additional undesired events but may increase the likelihood of an event occurring or increase the severity of its consequence.”

It goes on to say that “The risk level of each undesired event will vary according to platform features, rolling stock, driver behaviour and passenger behaviour and passenger flows.”

Yet despite the risk to passengers the report says the TOCs should sack guards on every train company. This will rake in £350 million over five years (see timetable below).

It concludes that “Analysis of the business case indicates that the expected payback time for national rollout under the same assumptions would be three years, and that the best estimate for return over 5 years would be £350m.”‎

Savings are to come directly from employing less staff to help passengers and by downgrading safety protections for passengers .

The report argues that “This can arise from employing fewer staff, and from replacing guards with cheaper non-safety critical on-train staff (NSCOS)” and that “Safety critical training for guards would no longer be required, which would reduce the training requirement from 12 weeks to 4 weeks for the second staff member on board”.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said;

“It is extraordinary that the rail industry’s own risk assessment body, funded by the train companies, can find on the one hand that Driver Only Operation is downright dangerous and on the other recommend ploughing on regardless in the name of profit. ‎This is a classic case of ‘who pays the piper calls the tune’.

“It is appalling that the RSSB can adopt this cavalier attitude and allow themselves to be wheeled out by a company like Govia Thameslink as cheerleaders for DOO. They are destroying their own credibility and making a mockery of their claim to be independent.”