Posted 4th May 2020 | 3 Comments

Unions protest about ‘more trains’ plans

THE three main rail unions have written a letter of protest to governments in England, Scotland and Wales, and also to the Mayor of London, as plans to run more trains in the near future become clearer.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has repeated his proposal that working hours should be staggered, so that trains carrying people to work would not be so full. Mr Shapps first mentioned this on 20 April.

At the time, he said: ‘Actually why does everyone have to get up and travel during the rush hour at a particular time in the morning? Why don’t we have more distance through the day?’

This now seems to be gaining more official acceptance, as a leaked plan to ease the country out of lockdown has emerged, which includes staggered hours and continued encouragement to work at home.

It has been reported that train timetables could be strengthened two weeks from now, with up to 80 per cent of the previous service restored.

This has yet to be confirmed by the government or the industry. Although Network Rail has said it is considering varius scenarios, it added that the government will decide the next steps.

The unions, meanwhile, see more trains as a fresh source of risk. Their joint letter says: ‘The government's advice around the lockdown – that staying at home helps save lives, and that only key workers should travel on public transport when absolutely necessary – remains unchanged. During the period of lockdown, service use has dramatically fallen. This has undoubtedly helped the UK to contain the pandemic.

‘We have severe concerns over attempts by operators to increase service levels. First, it sends out a mixed message that it is okay to travel by train – despite official advice suggesting otherwise. This mixed messaging could be dangerous and lead to the public flouting the rules on travel and work.

‘Second, there is no agreement on how actually services can be increased whilst protecting workers and passengers.

‘We are not convinced that there is any basis at this time for a safe escalation of services.

‘We therefore call on the government and operators to work with us in establishing where there is a real demand to increase services and where that demand exists, how it can be delivered safely.’

Ministers are legally obliged to review the current restrictions no later than Thursday this week.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Robots, Computers and anything running on Artificial Intelligence doesn't get Covid-19. Something that every worker needs to think about. If I was an employer faced with the problems of recent months then I would try and replace as many humans with machines and computers as I could. Not only do they not go sick they don't go on strike either.

  • Jez Milton, Manchester

    I agree with the unions. All passenger services should be halted with TOC staff laid off. Key workers are barely using trains anyway. Most services are currently carrying 3-4 passengers. These could be offered free taxis.

    Try running the current level of service when lockdown is lifted. Redundancy for other (unneeded) TOC staff. These might be re-employed if most passengers come back in their drives when we have a vaccine, in 12 months or so.

  • Matthew Ellis, Woking

    From a commuters perspective, the key area of risk for the staff appears to be stations (as drivers, signallers and engineers rarely interact with commuters).

    So why don't the unions instead of shouting No! with pitch-forks held high instead actually provide some constructive suggestions - after all, it is their members who are doing these jobs and have a pretty good idea (and likely some very good ideas) about how to move forward.

    That being said, many offices have discovered that working from home does indeed work, and while it will never be suitable for everybody, I suspect there is going to be a big drop in office populations (so quieter trains), with the knock-on reduction in demand for service industry workers (everything from office maintenance and cleaners through to braistas are going to be in reduced demand) which in turn reduces the use of public transport further.

    So, expect rail industry redundancies soon... (and inevitably more raised pitch forks)