Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

View from the Guard's Van; Comment

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

View from the Guard's Van; Comment

Article excerpt

STRIKE ACTION in the public services can rarely if ever be justified, and the willingness of the RMT train-drivers' union, led by its extreme-left dominated executive committee, to ballot for strike action on almost any excuse is a disgrace. The consequence of its lunatic combativeness over quite trivial issues, such as the colour of the uniforms some of its members are required to wear, is that when important issues do emerge the RMT is not taken seriously. The debate over the role of guards on trains, which has provoked the latest RMT threat of 24-hour stoppages, is genuinely important.

Railtrack, which operates the rail industry's rule book, has changed the rules to award sole responsibility to the driver, in the event of an accident or some other emergency, instead of sharing responsibility with the guard as before. Some train companies have interpreted this change as a licence to save money by doing away with guards altogether, or else diverting them to pushing the refreshment trolley.

Railtrack claims that the rule change improves safety because it allows the train driver to take instant decisions regarding the whole train, rather than, as in the past, taking responsibility for the front of the train while the guard looked after the rear. But the two incidents which precipitated this change actually argue against Railtrack's case. In both accidents the guard acted correctly in hurrying up the track to warn the next train to stop. In one case, a panicking passenger leapt out of the train and was killed; there was nothing the guard could have done had he stayed on board.

In the other, the guard was killed trying to stop the train behind. Drivers can be traumatised by accidents. A guard, a second man, then becomes important. He can take charge and calm passengers. Guards also help to maintain order. Thameslink, which has disposed of its guards, suffers a high rate of vandalism. Although the safety division, Railway Safety, appears not to appreciate these points, the general public does, and is strongly in favour of retaining guards on trains. When our railways work better, and are less prone to mishap, guards may well become redundant. …

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