Rail jobs, staff issues and training


Businesses meet with Grayling to discuss end to south-east rail disruption

Members of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have met with the transport secretary Chris Grayling and rail minister Paul Maynard today to discuss the ongoing rail disruption in the south-east, urging all parties involved to reach a “durable solution”.

The rail network in the south-east has been battered by strikes in recent weeks, with industrial action taking place on the Underground today and the well-documented strikes on Southern by Aslef and RMT set to continue.

The meeting was attended by representatives from Hampshire, London, Surrey, Sussex and Thames Valley chambers, all counties which have been affected by the disruption.

“Business communities and commuters across the south-east of England are impatient for action after nearly a year of unpredictable and costly disruption,” said the representatives after their meeting with Grayling.

“While firms have taken every step possible to support staff affected by strike action, businesses and local economies are hurting. It is incumbent upon all parties in the dispute to come to the table and reach a durable solution.”

One of the representatives who met to speak with Grayling was Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC, who warned that the events unfolding in the south-east are being watched with concern by business communities elsewhere in the UK – many of whom are represented by the BCC.

Marshall said that a wave of similar rail strikes elsewhere in the country would hit investment and job creation, potentially undermining the livelihoods of millions of people.

Colin Stanbridge, the chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry who was also in attendance at the meeting, argued that London businesses and commuters are “facing a double-whammy this week as they face disruption from both train and tube strikes”.

“A resolution between all the parties involved in these actions is needed urgently to prevent further and unnecessary disturbances to workers in the city and surrounding areas,” added Stanbridge.

Grayling has already made efforts to avert further strike action after extending an invitation to meet with Aslef and RMT to discuss their concerns. While both unions have accepted the offer, no date has yet been set for the meeting. 

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Lutz   09/01/2017 at 19:33

Action must be taken to make these strikes illegal, and to prosecute both the unions and those that take part in the strikes.

Mikeb   09/01/2017 at 21:08

Lutz. This dispute has indeed become extremely toxic from both sides and a resolution is now desperately needed. However, making strikes illegal and prosecuting both the unions and the workforce may be a dangerous path to take. Eventually a compromise will have to be reached or else, the dispute will drag on and the Southern commuters will continue to be inconvenienced.

Richard   09/01/2017 at 23:16

Totally agree with Mikeb, the atmosphere around this whole argument has become extremely toxic but "shoot them all" tactics would achieve nothing, unless of course perceived poor Management are also shot? Nobody in this argument has come out looking good and we all know it IS political with the Dft's shoddy paws all over it! Whatever they touch seems to become toxic. DOO may be achieveable (with safeguards) but is it what we really want? A second qualified and operationally trained person is what most people want to see on a train, yet we forge on with trying to automate erverything and replace people with machines. Eventually this fiasco has to be resolved and compromise introduced, so why not start now?

Lutz   10/01/2017 at 13:19

@Mikeb That's OK so long as it takes to a final solution - one perhaps based on training workers from India to take on their jobs.

Jerry Alderson   10/01/2017 at 16:34

Remember that Southern is just changing the role of a person, not removing people. In fact it is increasing the number of on-board staff. It will be rostering (i.e. paying for) a second person on all trains where there is currently one, and adding a second person to some trains that didn't previously have one. (These are all promises - and they can be broken, of course.) Instead of the second person being required to abandon passengers, whom they may be in the middle of serving, several times in the journey, they will now be able to continue serving the passengers all of the time. The second person will no longer have any justification to keep going into the rear cab as they often do now - they drop the window and peer out, even though it achives nothing 99.99% of the time. More importantly, they will no longer stay in the rear cab doing nothing useful (as far as passengers are concerned). If they are on duty and not visible they should be disciplined. The rule that a guard/conductor is deemed 'safety critical' is simply the term meaning that the train may not carry passengers without them being on-board. That term has been exploited to generate fear. In terms of rules it simply means 'mandatory'. The changes mean that if an OBS is unable to join the train when they should (and have been paid to join) then it is now possible to depart wuthout them rather than a) wait for them to arrive or b) cancel the service and turf everyone off the train. As the RMT claim to care so much for the passengers why doesn't GTR require the passengers to be told that the train will not have an OBS on board and they have the choice to leave the train and wait for the next train instead. Then passengers can vote with their feet. My local TOCs operate 'pure' DOO. I have done more than a thousand journeys where is only a driver and it has not been a problem for me personally ever (even when I've been on crutches), although that certainly doesn't mean it is the same for everyone. However, there have been many times when I wish there was a second person on board: to seve me coffee! That is a role that I am prepared to pay for.

John Grant   10/01/2017 at 17:55

@Lutz: I'm not sure the Indian railways' safety record would be acceptable here. Though at least they have an answer to the issue of who closes the doors -- leave them open! II suspect a lot of railway people aren't happy in a crowd, so want their "safe space" in the rear cab or behind the ticket window. But saying that seems wimpish, so they find another reason to resist the change.

Jerry Alderson   10/01/2017 at 19:21

Just been watching Paul Plummer of the Rail Delivery Group on Ian King Live (Sky News) essentially saying that the whole rail industry is behind the OBS principle. He mentioned the benefit of the OBS spending more time with passengers but didn't mention the reduction in dwell times, which is a cost-effective way of marginally increasing capacity in the railway without inflated infrastructre changes by Network Rail. This really is THE big dispute of the last 20 years. If BR had been given the funding in the 1980s/1990s the entire network would have drivers controlling doors. It's just that BR was not given the money to spend on stations or rolling stock.

SWB   10/01/2017 at 19:24

In the USA, the president can invoke the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 to intervene in any proposed strike against a transportation mode (rail, air, or road). After vetoing the law and seeing his veto overridden by Congress, Harry Truman went on to exercise the law 12 times. Since then presidents have used it liberally. It's last application was in 2014 to prevent a strike by Philadelphia transit workers. During the 60-day postponement provided by the law, the strike issues are investigated by an independent committee. That committee then issues a public recommendation as to how the strike should be resolved. That public pressure often settles the strike; if not, the strike may proceed. In addition to Taft-Hartley there is also the National Mediation Board, which offers binding arbitration in resolving any strike. Isn't it time for the UK to implement similar protections to the public interest?

Redrows   11/01/2017 at 08:54

The strikes were initiated and are prosecuted by the Unions, not GTR nor the Government. The legality/background/claimed causes to the Unions' strike action are irrelevant. It was their decision to strike, and theirs alone, thus causing loss to organisations, including the NHS. If my business were affected, I would have no hesitation in suing the Unions for damages compensation. It seems odd that the CBI, CoC and others have not joined to pursue an action on behalf of their members.

Jerry Alderson   11/01/2017 at 12:53

Re: government intervention as ib the US. To me it seems foolish that the government didn't have a back-up plan since it was known in summer 2014 prior to GTR taking over that DCO was going to be implemented and that RMT and ASLEF were joining forces ot oppose it. RTM reported on this at the time. In 1981 Margaret Thatcher gave in to the miners' union and then used the next two years to build stockpiles of coal so that when the ultimate dispute came she eventually won it. The DfT could have been training the armed forces to drive trains, for example, but have done nothing. I appreciate that it takes 11 months to *fully* train a driver but that is a) training them for a life time i.e. all the possible things that could happeni n their career and b) to operate a full schedule according to the timetable i.e. perfect speed. You don't need that amount of training to operate a reduced service (reduced frequency, reduced speed, limited calling points) in a specially controlled environment.

John Grant   11/01/2017 at 19:40

I'm sure I've heard that trains between Cambridge and London were driven by undergraduates in the strike of 1926. They can't have had much training, and driving and firing a steam engine is a much more skilled job. Maybe regular commuters could drive their own trains? Supervised by TOC management until they're proficient, perhaps?

Joel   12/01/2017 at 13:21

I listen to all opinions and make up my own mind. However, as a former Railway Control Room worker, the key element in any incident is recovery time - how long to realise an event has taken place, the time taken to get remedial resource (emergency and/or engineering) to the event site, and the time to effect a recoverable situation. It seems to me, on that aspect, being a former trained risk assessor, that single-staffing of trains is based on what DOES happen (99.999% of trains arriving in no worse a state than they started the journey) and not on what MIGHT happen (the 0.001% which suffer an adverse event). Risk is likelihood against impact. A train crash is rare (Low probability) but its impact can be catastrophic (High severe out-turn). Planning to mitigate the rare but lethal event should not have cost-saving or efficiency at its heart but only how to effect a recovery with the least human and then any other damage. Please apply informed and not dogma thinking to these situations.

Jerry Alderson   13/01/2017 at 00:50

@Joel. Cost will always play a part in any mitigation planning. There will never be enough money in the world to afford perfection, but we need to get as close to it as we can. Politicians will always face choices of priorities, such as the NHS e.g. spending the same sum of money saving 100 lives in hospitals or one life on the railway. After Ladbroke Grove in 1999 the government decided to spend money on TPWS rather than ATP. So far that has made total sense - not a single life has been lost by not going for ATP, but at the time the media were outraged that the government chose the substantially cheaper system. As someone who has travelled on far more than a thousand 'pure' DOO train services in Britain (and many hundreds more in Vienna as a daily commuter along with a few in Germany and other countries on the mainland) I feel very safe. However, I think DCO (i.e. DOO+1) can be afforded on the Great Northern and Greater Anglia services that I now regularly use, provided that the staff were visible and contactable all of the time (I'd be delighted if they served coffee during part of the journey - that'ts my main requirement as I board at a minor unstaffed station). On the new Class 700 Thameslink trains I like the CIS showing the carriages with location of toilets and loadings. It would be a nice idea if it showed the carriage where the on-board staff were (very easy to do technically) so I knew where to find them, but I can see some issues with this, not least passengers knowing which carriage to occupy to evade their fare. On Southern I would like to see money spent on making DCO work as well as possible. For example, larger screens in the driver's cab, including ones that can be zoomed-in like images on a mobile/tablet (some trains on the mainland allow this, so new trains in Britain should as well) and high-definition external cameras. It's perfectly practical for the train driver to be able to rotate the angle of the external camera, though it must always return to correct position afterwards. I believe we should follow the practice in Germany of the train driver being able to make announcements on the tannoy at the station (using radio). My own innovation idea is to wonder if the CCTV images could be shown on the cab windscreen (in addition to the screens). In some systems info is displayed on a screen but it would need the background to become much less transparent for the few seconds when making the decision to close doors and depart (i.e. after being given the road). GTR management has been inept from the start and technical issues have been left far too late - we are now 28 months since the DCO plans were make public. I really hope that the approach on Northern (due to have DCO on 50% of services by 2019) will be to plan for many of these things in advance so that by the time any dispute begins they will have a system that people can have confidence in.

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