This Week’s Train Strikes Are About Passenger Safety And Accessibility, Pure And Simple

RMT has confirmed strike action in separate disputes with train operating companies across the country including Southern, Greater Anglia, South Western Railways and Island Line, Northern and Merseyrail over attacks on the role of the safety-critical guard and the extension of Driver Only Operation in the name of increased profits. These strikes are about rail safety and accessibility, pure and simple. Only this week at the Wimbledon derailment, it was the guard on that train who safely evacuated 300 passengers in an emergency situation. Those are the same guards that South Western Railway used to call 'legends' and who they now want to throw off their trains. They are the same guards who have kept passengers safe for years on Merseyrail, Greater Anglia, Southern and Northern Rail. Even former Merseytravel boss Mark Dowd OBE has called for a rethink of the plan to remove guards from Merseyrail, highlighting concerns about a doubling of sexual assaults on the railway in the last five years and asks:"The real question that needs answering is how is culling guards from trains, such as that planned by Merseyrail going to prevent such offences?" Tory Transport minister Chris Grayling's plans for driver-only trains on South Western Railway will also discriminate against older and disabled passengers. Analysis of South Western Railway's existing policy for protecting vulnerable passengers found 140 - or seven out 10 - of the company's stations are unstaffed. The current policy recognises this by guaranteeing an additional member of staff on "every" and "all trains", to help disabled and older passengers at unstaffed stations. Under Grayling's plans for South Western, this policy will be ripped up as there will no longer be that guarantee of on train staffing. Where similar arrangements have been introduced on Southern disabled passengers have been left stranded at stations. On Northern, even local Tory MP for Copeland, Trudy Harrison - a marginal seat - has joined Labour and Lib Dems in calling for train Guards to be retained. The Rail Delivery Group needs to explain why they are now going back on their own report which was supressed for two years which said that Guards were in the frontline in providing assistance to disabled and older passengers and that there should always be a member of on-board staff to assist passengers. All of these disputes have a common theme and that is a drive by foreign-owned rail companies to axe guards on Britain's trains in order to put private profit before public safety and accessibility in order to subsidise their own rail networks. It is sickening that Chris Grayling and his supporters in the industry bosses club, the Rail Delivery Group, are prepared to sit back and cheer on overseas operators who are robbing British passengers blind in order to subsidise transport services in Paris, Amsterdam and Hong Kong‎. RMT's fight to keep the guards is about protecting the safety, security and access to rail services of the travelling public against an all-out drive to ramp up profits which are then shipped across the Channel. The idea that the British economy benefits from rammed out, expensive, unsafe and unreliable trains is ludicrous. It's time for the government, and their Rail Delivery Group fan club, to lift the blockade which is preventing rail companies from negotiating deals like the ones we have successfully struck in Wales and Scotland that‎ guarantee a guard on the trains. If it's good enough for Scotland and Wales it's good enough for the rest of Britain. Mick Cash is the general secretary of the RMT union