Posted 6th April 2017 | 2 Comments

Allegations multiply as DOO strikes loom

WARS of words have been raging as Saturday’s RMT strikes on Merseyrail, Northern and Southern approach.

Northern said the RMT had walked out of talks over the DOO/DCO dispute, which the union has denied.

The chief executive of Merseytravel has called on the RMT to ‘think twice’ before disrupting rail services in the Liverpool area on Grand National day, while the union says it will unveil a mobile advertising billboard setting out its opposition to DCO on Saturday morning which will then tour the city. It will also go to Aintree, where Grand National racegoers will be targeted.

Southern is predicting that it will provide a ‘near normal’ service on Saturday, although it will not be running trains through west London to Watford and Milton Keynes.

The temperature of the debates was raised still further yesterday (5 April) when the Office of Rail and Road published a series of safety principles covering driver controlled operation, signed by HM chief inspector of railways Ian Prosser. It was the latest in a series of official statements which broadly support more DCO. In it, Mr Prosser said: “The most important element is planning new arrangements well in advance, talking with staff and their representatives to address concerns.”

The RMT accused the ORR of producing a ’politically motivated’ report in the wake of the ASLEF referendum result earlier this week, in which Southern drivers rejected a proposed settlement with ASLEF for a second time.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash responded: “This latest rehash of previous statements and principles, that have not been met, from the ORR on DOO/DCO was timed to coincide with what they thought would be an acceptance of the GTR Southern ‘deal’ by drivers. The current statement is merely a mixture of undeliverables and lash-ups.’

The RMT had also been critical of the fact that the cost of Saturday’s Merseyrail strike, which will mean only limited services can run to Aintree, will fall on taxpayers rather than the franchised operator.

Merseytravel chief executive Frank Rogers agreed. 

“The RMT are right,” he said. “The public are footing the bill for this strike action and the public should be aware of that. The responsibility for this hit to taxpayers squarely rests with the RMT and that’s why they should think twice before taking this second day of unnecessary industrial action. 

“It is not unusual for the public purse to pick up the cost of strike action. It is not a specific arrangement to Merseyrail.

“This industrial action is totally unnecessary now and that has been made even clearer. The regulator has published principles that state operating trains without guards is safe, subject to the right procedures being in place. Therefore, it is not a question of who opens and closes the doors on these new Merseyrail trains but how best on-board staff are deployed and we have three years to discuss and agree this with the unions before the new trains are introduced in 2020. This is not today’s problem.

“These new trains are not about removing the guard and keeping everything else the same. These trains are transformative-  safer in every way compared with the ones they replace. Therefore, whatever the source of the funding, whether it is public or private, it is not necessary or cost effective to have a member of staff on every train at all times, especially on a frequent stop Metro style network which will remain one of the most heavily staffed in the UK. However, we recognise that passengers value on-board staff, particularly at night. That’s why Merseyrail  want to speak to the RMT about the possibility of putting a member of staff on every train in the evening. However, the RMT will not engage in any meaningful talks.”

Meanwhile ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan and his colleagues on the union’s executive have been considering their next move after the result of the second DCO referendum on Southern this week, in which his members again rejected the proposed settlement. The result showed that the number of drivers voting ‘no’ had barely changed, although the turnout was slightly higher, narrowing the gap between the two sides.

After the ORR had published its set of DCO principles, Mick Whelan responded: “As train drivers, we want a safe, efficient, and modern railway delivering for passengers and business in Britain. What we don’t want to see is the safety of our railway compromised by a ruthless desire to cut costs and increase profits for the privatised train operating companies.

“The key paragraph in the ORR’s principles – which are really just a re-release of guidance the ORR has published before – is that ‘suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff must be in place for the safe implementation of driver control operation.’

“Ian Prosser is quite right. They should be in place – and at the moment they are not.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • james palma, London

    Did Mark Whelan of ASLEF just say that his members are not competent??

    "competent staff must be in place for the safe implementation of driver control operation" "They should be in place and at the moment they are not.

    Oh dear oh dear. but my issue isn't with he drivers, it is with the pointless guards doing nothing all day.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Never known a Strike that couldn't be settled by giving lots more money to the Strikers !!!