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The Merseytravel Committee is the public sector body which originally made the recommendation to order new trains that would not require train guards to operate them.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?

Merseyrail – RMT Guards vote for Industrial Action

The present Merseyrail rolling stock (Class 507/8 EMU’s) at Southport Station.

Below is the RMT Union notice which was sent to members of the Merseytravel Committee today:-

RAIL UNION RMT confirmed today that members have voted overwhelmingly for both strike action and action short of a strike in a ballot for industrial action after Merseyrail’s continued failure to provide cast iron assurances around the future of the safety critical role of the guard.

Action has by RMT’s Merseyrail guards and drivers has been confirmed as follows: Members not to book on for any shifts between 0001hrs and 23.59 hrs on Monday 13th March. In addition members will not work any rest days from 00.01 hrs on Tuesday 7th March indefinitely.

81.8% of members voted for strike action with 93.5% backing action short of a strike.

In addition, the union is kick starting a renewed campaign, involving the general public and targeting politicians across the area served by Merseyrail, aimed at maximising political and public support for RMT’s fight for a guaranteed guard on the company’s services.

RMT General secretary Mick Cash said:

“This ballot result sends out the clearest possible message to Merseyrail, Merseytravel and politicians across the area that RMT is prepared to stand up and fight for public safety and the guard guarantee. The company now has the best part of two weeks to sit down with us, address the core issues at the heart of this dispute and negotiate a settlement before the action commences.

“The union’s position on Driver Only Operation is perfectly clear. We will not agree to any introduction of DOO and will fight to retain the safety critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train. It is the failure of Merseyrail to give guarantees on those basic principles that has led to the current dispute and the campaign of industrial action.

“RMT asked Merseyrail to give the union assurances that any new trains will have a second safety critical crew member on board and that the guard will be retained on all services. We set out clear deadlines giving the company ample time to give those assurances but the company have flatly refused to consider a guarantee of a second safety critical person on the new trains”.

“This dispute, and the industrial action announced today, were entirely preventable if the company had listened and to the unions deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously and had put passenger safety before profit. The blame for the industrial action, and the disruption it will cause, lies solely at the door of Merseyrail and those who are happy to put private profits before public safety.

“Merseyrail are also completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers, who overwhelmingly oppose the idea of Driver Only Operated trains on their network. That pig-headed attitude has forced the union’s hand and the idea that we would compromise on the fundamental issue of rail safety is absurd. The union remains available for meaningful talks and we would expect Merseyrail to take up that offer as a matter of urgency.”

I can’t say that this has come as any surprise at all as Merseytravel, the public sector body that controls the Merseyrail Train Franchise, all but invited the strike in my view by choosing to purchase new trains which will be DOO – Driver Only Operated.

Like many I view this move towards taking away train guards with great scepticism as I don’t think Merseytravel have convinced anyone so far that it will actually lead to a safer local rail network for Merseyside. It does not help that Merseytravel seem to have differing answers to the question why they have decided to go down the route of Driver Only Operation. But of course I also view with horror the prospect of an industrial dispute and railway strikes such as that which is presently ongoing in the South East of England over this very issue.

I suspect this dispute has a long way to run and the victims of it will be the travelling public and Merseyrail staff it seems.

My thanks to Cllr. John Dodd for the lead to this posting.

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?

Train Guards – Have Merseytravel (who are not even the employer) ‘signalled’ a rail dispute with RMT?

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link above

I covered this issue quite a bit in that terrible year of 2016 and the end result of, in effect, ignoring the concerns expressed by the rail trade unions and indeed concerned rail passengers seems to be coming to pass in 2017.

This is what the new Merseyrail trains could look like when delivered but they are already the cause of great concern at being DOO (Driver Only Operation).

This is what the new Merseyrail trains could look like when delivered but they are already the cause of great concern at being DOO (Driver Only Operation).

Having followed developments regarding the potential for removing train guards from the new Merseyrail rolling stock I must say that this is an industrial dispute just waiting to happen. Or, how to handle a sensitive industrial relations issue – NOT.

I spent 30 years of my working life as a trade union officer and you could see some disputes coming a mile off. They usually followed a period of poor industrial relations where the union and the views of its members were being all but ignored.

The history of British industrial relations going back generations teaches us that ignoring the concerns expressed by trade unions virtually always leads in the end to damaging disputes which could in many cases have been avoided via meaningful dialogue between the employer and the appropriate trade unions. Yet we never seem to learn and keep on rehearsing the same poor workplace practices over and over again!

I am certainly in the camp of those who look at the loss of train guards on Merseyrail and elsewhere with great concern and there are many other rail users/passengers who hold similar concerns.

Why have Merseytravel/Merseyrail* not tried to convince the travelling public as to why they think they will be safer without train guards? And why have they not had an open public debate before ordering new trains which are meant to operate without guards?

If the travelling public are concerned and feel like they have not been included in the debate how on earth do the professional railway staff and their trade unions feel? I think we know that the unions are very upset and are openly talking about a dispute that could lead to strike action. And who seems to have waved the red railway danger flag for a dispute? It seems to me that it has been waved at the unions not by them.

I have often despaired at industrial relations in the UK and this mess up looks like yet another dispute that could have been avoided. It’s not as if the hugely damaging industrial action on the failing Southern Rail franchise could be forgotten; it’s happening right now and at least in part over the very same issue!

* Merseytravel is the public sector body which delivers transportation solutions at a local level for the Liverpool City Region. Merseyrail is the operator of the 3rd rail electrified rail services in and around Liverpool and the City Region.

PS. There’s an interesting article about DOO and whether it is safer than having train guards, in Private Eye No.1434, page 16, in the regular SIGNAL FAILURES column.

Merseyrail to get new trains BUT there will be no guards on them!

Yes I know the ordering of these new trains for the Merseyrail franchise has been announced more times than even the building of the new Maghull North Station i.e. tens of times at least over goodness knows how many years!


However, another milestone was reached today with the Merseytravel Committee of the Liverpool City Region agreeing to actually pursue the purchase of them. So far so good and no one can be anything but pleased that some of the oldest railway rolling stock in the UK is going to be renewed.

HOWEVER, and its a big however, the new trains will be driver only operated i.e. there will be no train guards on them. Yes, the guards will be replaced by some form of customer service operative but I remain unconvinced that passenger safety will not be compromised.

Of course the current huge dispute surrounding the Southern Trains franchise is very much bound up in this guards issue too, although that franchise has massive problems anyway of the kind that Merseyrail does not have.

I have posted about this matter before and my last relevant posting is available via the link below:-

My fear is that cost cutting and passenger safety do not sit well together and I had hoped that Merseytravel would had taken the more cautious route with regard to the new trains for the Merseyrail franchise and openly stood out against the loss of train guards.

Here’s the BBC’s take on today’s events:-

Merseyrail – Labour-run Merseytravel Committee needs to be clear what they are looking for in terms of guards on new train fleet

A present 507/508 EMU Merseyrail unit at Crescent Road level crossing - Birkdale, Southport.

A present 507/508 EMU Merseyrail unit at Crescent Road level crossing – Birkdale, Southport.

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above

I have blogged previously about the worrying potential loss of train guards once the new fleet of Merseyrail trains is introduced and agree with the RMT union campaign to keep train guards for passenger safety reasons.

My concern all along has been that Labour-run Merseytravel have been unwilling to say whether they are specifying guards on the new trains or not and it seems they are still unwilling to come off the political fence they have chosen to sit on.

This quote from the Echo article is telling:-

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.

Surely it was up to Merseytravel to specify that it did want the new fleet of trains with a guard facility on them then all bidders to build the trains would have included such in their bids. Why has Merseytravel seemingly left this crucial decision in the hands of the train builders to decide? This smacks, to me at least, of the Transport Committee abdicating responsibility.

The photo above is amongst my Flickr shots at:-