Commuters hit by rail strike

Robert Franck

Rail services from Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge to London and back were busier than normal yesterday as commuters who usually use Southern railway services attempted to find ways around a 24-hour strike.

Although other rail operators were still running services into the capital, there were no trains between Tonbridge and Redhill.

The bitter dispute between unions and rail firms has broken out over plans to transfer responsibility for closing train doors from conductors to drivers.

Southern Railway and ScotRail intend to implement a new role for conductors which focuses on helping passengers rather than operating doors.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has raised safety concerns over the issue and fears that it will eventually lead to job losses.

ScotRail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which owns Southern, have insisted there will be no job cuts as a result of the switch in responsibility.

But the RMT says drivers will be the ‘only guaranteed member of staff on the train’ and hundreds of guards could lose their jobs.

The union has warned that drivers will be expected to have responsibility for passenger safety, whereas currently both the driver and the guard ‘protect the safety of the train’.

It also claims rail companies are putting profits before safety.

Train doors are operated by drivers on 60 per cent of services on the GTR network and around half of ScotRail trains, according to the companies.

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) said a number of studies over the past 15 years into Driver Only Operation (DOO) trains have not identified any increased risk from dispatching a train without a guard being present as long as the correct procedures are followed.

A spokesman for the organisation even claimed that the removal of any possible miscommunication between a driver and a guard ‘could potentially deliver safety benefits’.

The industry’s regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), noted that DOO has been in operation in Britain for more than 30 years and its inspectors are satisfied it is a safe method of working.

But the RMT dismissed the comments and insisted that the RSSB and ORR are not independent because they are funded by train companies and the Government respectively.

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