As someone who suffers from a range of disabilities and with worsening health, travelling on public transport is becoming increasingly difficult due to the lack of staff and assistance. My local train company have been the most recent to make cuts, meaning RMT and guards have been on strike. Not because of pay cuts, or job cuts, but because they care about passengers and fellow staff. And despite the abuse I receive, I fully support them. Here’s a blog I found by a train conductor which I think sums up the situation perfectly.
I am a Conductor for Southern Rail and for obvious reasons I have to remain anonymous. But I want to tell you the truth. I will try to keep my personal opinion out of this and go with the facts.
Firstly, the dispute is not just about who presses a button to close the doors, although this is part of it. This dispute is about having a second member of staff on the train who is safety critical trained. Southern are telling you that every train service that already has a Conductor on it, will have a second member of staff on board. This has already proven not to be the case. There have been lots of trains that do not have another member of staff on board, just the Driver. Myself and other colleagues have gone to take over a train and there has been no-one there to hand it over to us. We have taken the train not knowing if anyone requires assistance, if there are any faults with the train and if there is anyone on board we might need to keep an eye on. It has also happened the other way around. We are supposed to be leaving the train and handing it over to someone else and there is no-one there. If there is someone on board who requires assistance, then we have no-one to tell. We could try to ring the station, if the number we have for them works and if they answer it, and that is assuming it is a manned station. We could try and ring Control, but they hardly answer. So, the poor person requiring assistance would just be left, unable to alight at their station.
The second member of staff will now be an On-Board Supervisor (OBS) who is safety trained but not safety critical. The difference being, they do not have any route knowledge and do not hold Personal Track Safety (PTS). PTS means you are trained to go on the tracks in the case of an emergency. We have been trained for this and made aware of dangers and hazards on and around the track. The new OBS’ have not. They are as qualified as any member of the public to go on the track. They did not have training for it. They do not have any route knowledge. They do not which parts of the track to walk along, which parts of the tracks are not safe to walk on. They did not get trained for this. So, in the horrible event that the Driver becomes incapacitated, there will not be a safety critical and knowledgeable member of staff on board. Would you get on an aeroplane without any cabin crew? As they may be there to give you pillows, blankets and refreshments, their main role is safety. In the event of an emergency they are fully trained to assist and deal with it. You just hope they never have to. The same is with Conductors. We are trained to assist and deal with emergency situations, but to the travelling public we are there to check tickets and make announcements. We are a safety measure. You should hope that you never have to see us assist in this way, as this means something has gone wrong, but isn’t it best to have us on there? Just in case.
Now about the pressing of the button to close the doors. This might seem like such a trivial thing, but I can assure you, it is not. The pictures that Southern and the media show you are from the new 387’s that are used on Gatwick Express. They are brand new trains. Although, some of the pictures I have seen from them are shocking, that’s if they are working at all. But, the trains operated on Southern routes are 377’s. The cameras on them are terrible. They do not work in bright light, in low light, they are fuzzy and blurry. Some of them do not work at all. They only show part of the doors, so the Driver cannot see much. Also, the cameras are not in real time. They take shots every few seconds and that is all it takes for someone to slip under the train and they would not see it, so they would not be aware of it. Also, the angle the cameras are at, you are unable to tell if someone has a piece of clothing or hand trapped in the doors. If something like a piece of clothing, umbrella, even a small child’s hand is trapped in the door, the Driver will still achieve interlock (tells him all the doors are safely closed), so they could drive away without knowing. The cameras also don’t allow the Driver to see what is happening on the platform, so if someone is running for the train or if someone slips or falls on the platform, they would not know. With these trains, when the Driver takes the power to move the train, the camera images disappear, so they cannot see anything. We as Conductors, look at the platform until all the train has left the platform, in case something happens.
Southern already operate Driver Only Operation (DOO) on the Metro routes (train journeys that start and finish in London Zones 1-6), but this does not make it right. Most if not all the Drivers who operate on those routes wished they had a Conductor. Also, the distance between stops is not that much, so if an emergency occurred there would be a manned station not far away. A lot of the stations on the East and West Coast of Sussex are unmanned. I know Thameslink are also DOO and this is often used by Govia as a reason to make Southern DOO as well. But, Thameslink went DOO when less people used the railway. The stations were not as busy and over-crowded and neither were the trains. Most of the Thameslink Drivers would like a Conductor back on their train.
Southern stated earlier this year that services were severely disrupted due to unofficial strike action. I can tell you this was nonsense. The high levels of sickness was due to the way we were being treated. Every time we start a shift we have to sign a form stating we are fit to work, mentally and physically. This is due to the Conductor Grade being a safety critical role and we need to be at our best and be fully-concentrated on our job. As our mistakes can cost lives and we could be prosecuted. If we do not feel 100%, we should not be at work. Due to the constant bullying and harassment from senior management, a lot of Conductors were suffering from work-related stress and anxiety, which decreases your ability to concentrate. So, in the interest of safeguarding the public and ourselves, people got signed off sick. They did not want to. They just knew they had to. Now, they have imposed a rule for Conductor’s that we are unable to self-certify any sickness and a doctor will only certify for over 7 days. So, if we are sick and want to receive our company sick pay, we have to be off work for at least 7 days, even if we are not ill for that long. This rule is still being imposed upon us. The other form of unofficial strike action Southern keep mentioning, is the fact we are not working our rest days. Now, each week we can have either 1 or 2 days off, due to them being different days we can end up working 10 days in a row and then we are expected to work the 1 day we do get off. Yes, in some Depots we can get between 7-9 days off every 7 weeks, but this is just time that we have accrued and time we want to spend with our families and friends. Yes, it is true that some people did work their rest days and now they don’t. This is not due to any form of strike action, this is due to Southern treating them so badly, that they have lost any goodwill towards them. It is not striking, it is just taking the time off we are entitled too.
The truth of it is, they do not have enough staff, Conductors and Drivers. They were always understaffed, but people worked their rest days. But in the last 18 months the number of Conductors has reduced and they have not employed enough people to replace them. They want to get rid of Conductors, to improve Customer Service. Rubbish. If they employed enough Conductors to cover all the rostered shifts, then they would not need to cancel trains due to shortage of train crew, as they would have enough. They do not want to improve customer service. They just do not want to employ any more Conductor’s but not have to cancel trains and get fined for it. If they wanted to improve customer service, then they would make sure an OBS was on every train, which has not been the case. They also stated that the Conductor/OBS would no longer have to go to the panel and have any interaction with the doors, which is now not the case. We still have to open the panel we work from, put and turn our key on, step out onto the platform to check if anyone requires assistance and then get back on the train and take our key off. I cannot see how doing that is allowing us to spend more time with passengers to provide customer service.
I know a lot of passengers are fed up of the strikes and the disruption it has caused you and believe me, we are sorry to. We do not like causing this disruption and inconvenience to you. We are just fighting for your safety. Just think of how much disruption there has been on Southern trains in the last 18 months, when there have not been any strikes.