We had two local user-group attendees in the BBC-debate audience. Mr Merriman, representing his constituents and House of Commons Transport Select Committee, will have noted the general anger at all parties – not just the unions.
As we have previously noted the Department of Transport has been heavily involved in this dispute from the outset, so there must be doubt about the Governments capacity to act as a neutral intermediary to untangle the issues. This should be the responsibility of a truly independent body such as Health & Safety Executive.
If all parties can then agree to the basic principle that all trains – with no caveats – must carry a minimum of two safety-critical personnel ie driver + one, then there is a way forward toward resolving the dispute. Until then, stations East of Eastbourne will continue to receive a reduced and unreliable service.
There clearly remains a deep and unresolved dispute over the safety of Driver Only Operation on our local train fleet. It would appear that our local MPs, along with the travelling public have been misled.
To clarify, what the ORR report (05/01/17) says: “In short, ORR’s view is that with suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff in place the proposed form of train dispatch intended by GTR-Southern meets legal requirements for safe operation”.
The reality is that none of these things are yet in place on the East Coastway route between Haywards Heath or Brighton and Ore.
The majority of stations are unstaffed or part-staffed. Elsewhere, for example on the Brighton Mainline, Thameslink and inner-suburban ‘Metro’ services, the departure of every driver-only train needs to be either overseen by station platform staff or have platform-based CCTV or mirrors, together with full length platforms with levels of lighting that allow good clear images to be seen, especially out of daylight hours and/or in poor weather conditions.
The same ORR report states that they conducted tests on stations between Horsham and Bognor Regis. This cannot be an automatic ‘pass’ to all stations on other Southern routes. From our understanding, virtually every station on the East Coastway other than Brighton, Lewes and Eastbourne fails to reflect the required standards.
In the event of there being no second person on the train – whether they a conductor or on-board supervisor – the train may not be able to call at intermediate stations. The rail user groups have seen evidence that GTR/Southern itself issued such instructions to drivers on 26.11.16, indicating that it privately acknowledges that the on-board CCTV equipment is unfit for purpose.
Furthermore it means that there will be nobody available to assist passengers with special needs, which is why a wheelchair-reliant passenger was left stranded on the platform at Hampden Park for 2 hours on 6th January. Another similar incident took place at Pevensey & Westham and there are unconfirmed reports of other instances across West Sussex since DOO went live in that area.
In May 2016 SHRIMP raised the related question ‘How Does a Disabled Person Access a DOO Train at an Unstaffed Station?’. It can be seen at: www.1066shrimprail.org.uk/2016/05/how-do-disabled-people-access-driver-only-trains-at-unstaffed-stations/ .
Our MPs have been presented with partial information suggesting that because other parts of the network are DOO-compliant this status applies to all Southern stations. Not so. The trains themselves may or may not be safe for DOO operation, subject to modification.
But currently our local stations are not, and Southern knows it. Our MPs must insist that every local station is independently inspected and certified by The Health and Safety Executive as safe for DOO operations.
There have been references to an agreement to a parallel dispute between Abellio Scotrail (ASR) and RMT. The difference is that ASR are dependant on fare income to survive and needed to move forward, whereas GTR are tax-payer funded and can drag the dispute out indefinitely.
Another industry quote, this time from the Rail Safety and Standards Board (March 2015) to the Train Operating Companies : “Adopting a strategy of guard redundancies delivers the greatest economic benefit, while a strategy of staff turnover and redeployment of guards delivers (technical jargon)”.