Rail union seeks talks over safety ‘breaches’ during guards’ strikes

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The biggest rail workers’ union has called for urgent talks about safety “breaches” during industrial action, on the eve of a fresh wave of strikes in the long-running dispute over the role of guards on trains.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union on South Western Railway (SWR) will walk out for three days from Friday, causing fresh disruption to passengers.

The union raised a “catalogue” of incidents with the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) it said had happened during previous bouts of industrial action.

In a letter to the union, the ORR said that during 11 days of industrial action against SWR there had been 18 incidents, including three door “irregularities”, two cases of trains stopping short of platforms and doors being released, and a number of “ready to start against reds” incidents.

Some of the cases involved contingency guards covering for strikers.

The ORR said it had met with SWR earlier this month and the company recognised that its safety performance could be improved.

An SWR spokesman said: “Our contingency guards are fully trained for the duties they carry out during periods of RMT strike action.

“This training was verified both internally and by an independent safety adviser. Any operational incidents involving contingency guards are being investigated in exactly the same way as when they happen during normal service. The number of incidents which has occurred during periods of industrial action is not materially different to that during normal operations.

“That aside, our focus is on finding a way to resolve the RMT’s dispute which is why we are urging them to call off these strikes and work with us to find a solution.”

The RMT said each of the incidents could have had “disastrous consequences”, claiming that passengers could have stood on the live rail as doors were opened on the wrong side or short of the platform.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is outrageous that South Western Railway would rather compromise public safety on their trains through deploying this highly-paid scab army of ‘contingency guards’ than sit down with the union and negotiate a deal which guarantees a real guard on their services.

“This confirmation from the rail safety regulator exposes the level of risk that the company are prepared to run to break this action by our members – action in defence of safe, secure and accessible rail services.

“I am calling again for the company to drop this dangerous, high-risk approach and start taking with us as a matter of urgency around the principle of the guard guarantee that the union has secured elsewhere in England and across the whole of Scotland and Wales.”

A spokesman for the ORR added that in the year to August 2018, on non-strike days there were 42 “ready to start against red” incidents and 37 stopped short and released doors.

There were no safety concerns for passengers as a result of any of these incidents, the ORR added, as safety models in place mean that a series of interlocking actions maintain safety even if one, or more, fails.

Because a guard wrongly signals for a train to depart, it does not mean that it will do so, said the spokesman.

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