Merseyrail – So how many Customer Service staff will replace the Train Guards under Merseytravel’s plans?

Readers of this blog site will know that I have been trying to get behind the media stories regarding the the loss of train guards on Merseyrail when new driver only operated trains are delivered in around 3 years time.

I think that one reason for the move to guardless trains is to cut costs and a second is to address issues associated with accidents involving passengers. You takes your pick but I think the majority of us will probably think that the major influencing factor is likely to be money.

The other day, before the guards strike of Monday 13th March, I heard an RMT Trade Union representative say (during a TV interview) something along the lines of there would only be around 25% of Merseyrail trains where there will be a second member of staff on board after the new guardless trains are brought in. That seemed very low to me based on what I thought I had heard from organisations like Merseytravel. I thought they were indicating far more than that. It was time to try to get an explanation from Merseytravel so I asked Merseytravel Committee member Cllr. John Dodd to pursue this for me. He did and this is what came back from Merseytravel by way of an explanation:-

We fully recognise that there are some people who will be reassured by a second member of staff on a train and under the new arrangements, with around 60 dedicated on-board customer service staff targeted at key locations and times such as at night and during events, will substantially improve the visibility of on-board staff. There will continue to be revenue protection, security and cleaning staff on trains as there is today, as well as staffing retained at stations- stations that are staffed first to last train, and with passengers only ever around three minutes on average from a station.

While you can roughly calculate that 60 staff is around 25% of the current guards numbers, this doesn’t reflect increased customer interaction the new on-board staff will have. The current guards spend 10% of their time, on average, in the saloon engaging with passengers, around 60 staff who spend 100% of their time in the train saloon, will increase visibility of staff for customers.

So the 25% quoted by the RMT rep is about right but lets do the rough math. Around 240 guards are presently spending 10% of their time engaging with passengers on Merseyrail. This will be replaced by 60 staff spending 100% of the time engaging with passengers. So what Merseytravel are, I assume, trying to say is that there will be more on-board engagement with passengers under the new system.

But remember that Merseytravel are also saying this (see above) 60 dedicated on-board customer service staff targeted at key locations and times such as at night and during events, will substantially improve the visibility of on-board staff.

So the 60 customer service staff will seemingly not all be on the trains but at key locations (stations?), at night and during events. And of course they will presumably be working some form of shift pattern, have holidays and be ill so the number available every day and per train will actually be…..? Is this then, at least in part, an extension of the Customer Service staff we presently see particularly at night on Liverpool Central Station?

Well I don’t know about you but I have still not seen through the fog of this dispute and the devil will be in the detail of the Merseytravel plans as is always the case with industrial disputes. One thing I am pretty sure about though is that industrial relations seem to have been set back a long way by what Merseytravel and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority are promoting and that can’t surely be in interests of the travelling public.

Merseyrail’s RMT strike – A interesting aside

Merseyrail’s Kirkdale Motive Power Depot with Kirkdale Station in the background.

Merseyrail, as I understand it, applied for an injunction to stop today’s rail strike on the network on the basis that the decision to implement new trains (which will run without guards) was taken by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and, as such, Merseyrail had no choice but to implement the plans.

Merseytravel (a Committee of the Combined Authority), I understand, responded by saying that they were aware of the injunction, but that the injunction was a matter for Merseyrail as the employer of the staff represented by the RMT.

Just to untangle this a bit:-

The Merseytravel Committee is the public sector body which originally made the recommendation to order new trains that would not require train guards to operate them. That recommendation was then endorsed by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. However Merseyrail, the private sector franchisee, which presently operates the Merseyside rail network (and will continue do so after the new trains are delivered) has in effect been forced to enact the decision which has caused its RMT Union employees to go on strike.

No wonder Merseyrail are upset as they at face value they are the victims of the decision making process just as much as their train guards.

I don’t think you could make this all up, could you?