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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Abolish Train Staffing Altogether ?

Blackpool North's approach was the site of an RMT display getting the attention of visitors and residents on Sunday. The RMT are taking strike action against Northern Rail over the company's determination to introduce Driver Only Operation for many of its services, including those running into Blackpool on introduction of electric trains.

I am not a regular rail user, thankfully, although at one time I was a commuter into Grand Central Station from Westchester County on the Harlem Hudson line - both pre-electric and after electrification. There wasn't a cat in hell's chance of the relevant US railroad unions allowing commuter train service to be solely in the hands of a driver and with no Conductor on board. I well remember the ticket punching ritual which was an essential element of every journey into and out of New York City - with checked slips then slipped behind the passenger's headrest to denote he had been already checked by one of two or three conductors. These were real commuter trains with up to eight or even ten coaches, which meant there was no requirement for standing passengers.

I was informed by the RMT Union Members on the display line that Northern Rail will require handicapped passengers needing assistance with loading and unloading of wheelchairs or mobility aids - to provide 48 hours advance notice to the Operator of their intention to travel on a given day and train, such is the complication of a single person staffing a Northern Rail train and being required also to get out of the driver's cab to then fit a ramp onto an carriage entrance to allow a mobility disabled traveller to gain access. This needless to say would involve considerably more waiting time if only a train driver is available to perform this duty - there being no Guard on board

RMT alerting the public to serious safety issues this past weekend in Blackpool.

In London the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) operates pretty effectively without drivers or conductors; with computers controlling and determining train movements, speed and signals. Perhaps Northern Rail whose ownership is vested in German State Railways - formerly known as Deutsche Reichsbahn in a previous era - might consider doing away with train staff altogether and follow the DLR format making things much easier payroll wise. significantly adding to the company's bottom line which ends up their German stakeholders.

Transpennine Express which operate into and out of Blackpool with an expanding network of rail services in northern Britain - are retaining 'Guards' on their trains, along with rail franchises concerned with passenger (and train) safety as their main priority. The rot set in of course years ago with the Major Government's rushed through rail privatisation Bill at the tail end of their grip on the levers of Parliamentary power. Ever since the UK's national rail network has been in the grip of layers of financing companies and operating franchisees resulting in lamentable passenger discord. Ever rising UK rail fares to an unheard of level anywhere else in Europe (or the world); superannuated rolling stock north of Watford, seriously overloaded trains in peak journey times, with limited passenger seating capacity due to operators paring to the bone the number of carriages they have to lease in order to fulfill service obligations; and now paring their staffing levels to driver only controlled trains. This leaves fully loaded trains without any other onboard staff to deal with incidents, breakdowns, accidents and much more. Next time you have to ride the rails in this part of the country on a 'DOO' train - give a thought to your personal safety and that of your fellow travellers. No one else will, it seems on Driver Only Operation (DOO) services now coming to a station near you, courtesy of German owned Northern Rail.

We await with interest the results of the ASLEF actions which are not exclusive to Northern Rail. Whether DB, SNCF, Swiss railways or other European / EU rail operators similarly are inclined to run passenger services solely with a driver in charge - is worth some due diligence. Doubtful that British Rail would ever entertain the concept and ironic that Blackpool's trams due to serve the railway station carry not one but two conductors in addition of course to the tram driver..

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