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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Guards' strike: Do they have a case?
THe prospect of disruption on Britain's railways this summer has come a step closer after a vote for strike action by train guards.
Guards have been angered by new safety procedures, which they say devalues their role in ensuring train safety and reduces them "to the level of Kit-Kat sellers".
Train operating companies deny the accusation and have expressed disappointment over the strike action.
The dispute has been simmering since last year, when similar strikes were called off because there appeared to be progress in negotiations.
What do you think of this strike? Do the guards have a case? How will it affect you?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Simon McKeown, UK
Any arguments that are in favour of not having guards are rendered impotent if you look at by E. George's observation in this talking point. Simple fact: guards are there to save lives and keep things safe when things go wrong. If something serious happens only once or twice a year, then they have still justified their existence, and this does not even take into account factors like discouraging petty crime, which would not even be recorded. It goes back to the same old argument concerning all transport: "What price do you put on people's safety and lives?" Not that much according to rail companies, but that won't be a surprise to anyone I'm sure.
It would be nice for some honesty for a change. Despite what the rail unions would like us to believe this is not really about rail safety, it is about trying to secure "jobs for life". Please start living in the real world, and start crediting the long-suffering commuters who pay thousands a year for a thoroughly sub-standard service, with a little intelligence.
Normally when I travel to work I don't really pay much attention to the guard (not that they seem to be called that anymore). However this weekend I took my family on a rail journey when the guard firstly helped me to get two pushchairs on to the train, then sold me a ticket which was not available from the ticket machine on my un-staffed station, then told me what platform I needed to go to to catch my connection. On my return journey the guard prevented potential disaster when the train began to leave the station when someone was still boarding. Personally I think this move has the potential to be a worse disaster than the removal of station staff, and the difference that has made to personal safety (real and perceived).
Ian Wood, UK
I am disgusted that Neil in Manchester thinks we commuters are selfishly thinking that our journeys are more important than other people's jobs and safety! If all of us poor commuters decided to stop using the trains and get to work by other means, the RMT workers wouldn't even have jobs to strike over.
I think a lot of people who are saying how useless train guards are, are missing a key point that is easily picked up on by reading people's comments. Whether a guard is actually 100% needed for safety reasons is not the full issue. It is quite obvious that many people just feel a lot safer with guards around. This psychological effect is just as valid as the practical one.
I can't believe they want to get rid of guards after Hatfield and Paddington! Given the atrocious record of safety on Britain's railways, we undermine guards and their vital work at our peril. How typical that one correspondent thinks we should 'sack the lot of them'. Obviously he is one of those selfish people who does not recognise that guards are also people, trying to do a worthwhile job and support their families. Given that the pay is not exceptional, they wouldn't be doing this if there was not real reason for them to do so.
The guards may have a valid complaint but the manner in which they are trying to solve it is not valid. There are procedures in place to make changes. How does striking, which only inconveniences the customers/passengers. solve the problem? All the action is directed towards those who can do nothing and nothing is directed at those who can.
Another strike to come - what a surprise! Sack the lot of them. Londoners have to deal with stressful enough journeys to and from work without disputes like this.
A great example of what happens when you put profits before safety of your customers. God help London Underground users if the PPP goes ahead.
Guards do provide a valuable service especially in a volatile situation; their remit should be more not less.
Most trains already have people on them that can sell Kit-Kats. If we get rid of the guards, who is going to keep an eye on the driver? What happens if the driver becomes ill or even collapses?
Memo to the RMT (and Postal unions):
That thing you don't like? It's called change, and us in the real world have been working WITH IT for a large number of years now.
Playing the "safety" card in these disputes is wearing a bit thin now.
Remember that as far as the train operating companies are concerned, we're "customers" not passengers. That, to my mind, clearly indicates their priorities - to relieve us of our money rather than to ensure safe and timely passage to our chosen destination. So it's hardly surprising that rail staff aren't expected to have any more responsibility for safety than the average shop assistant.
How sad for you people who have to be inconvenienced for a couple of days, do you really think these people want to lose a couple of days wages, they are striking over legitimate issues and ones which are there to protect the public a lot of people seem very selfish and uncaring in believing that their own journeys are more important than other peoples jobs and safety
As the close relative of a serving rail guard I know how much their presence on our trains has contributed to safety in previous years. The rulebook is a complex and living document that only trained and experienced staff can implement. In fact I know of several real cases where the soon to be "Kit-Kat sellers" have stopped run-away trains, saved passengers from fire, disarmed knife-armed robbers, stopped drivers who took the wrong track or passed signals set on danger and re-started hearts. Any attempt to remove the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the train and its passengers from the "on train managers" should be resisted. We should look to countries such as Norway, Sweden and the rest of the EU where the guards are just that, guards of the passengers and the train first and ticket collectors second. I support them fully.
I agree with those who are backing the guards. I am a commuter, and have been for the last 12 years, and I will, I suppose, be "inconvenienced" by the strikes, but that's a small price to pay to defend safety standards. Indeed, I think the role of the guards ought to be extended and not abolished.
Many of the guards' responsibilities have been taken-over by modern technology. Driver-only (DOO) trains are fitted with continuous cab-secure radio to the controlling signal centre. The system monitors if the driver is at the controls and a PA system to the signaller is provided for mishaps. Moreover, the lines which DOO trains run-over are continuously track-circuited and should there be any obstructions it is likely to show up on the signallers' VDU/panel.
Guards are/were provided where this equipment does not exist.
Today in the age a portable radio/modern signalling their role has been degraded. It is now far better for them to stay on the train and serve the needs of passengers rather than run-off down the line if the line has already been protected during an accident!
Hence their status has moved.
I think the guards do have a case. By loading more responsibilities onto drivers we are increasing their stress level and making accidents more likely. As far as I understand, the roles of guards was changed for financial reasons rather than operational ones, and I for one would not mind paying a little more for my ticket in return for a safer travelling environment.
Strikes are inconvenient, and cause disruption. That's the whole point of them - no one would be talking about this issue if the withdrawal of labour by the Guards did not have major consequences. I'm in full support of their plans, even though it will severely impact on me and some of my colleagues. Safety must always have a higher priority than convenience.
I am sick to the back teeth of all the industrial action that has been happening over the last month or so - if it isn't the tubes it's the railways. EVERY summer without fail the poor commuters are 'held to ransom' by the rail unions, who have nothing better to do with their time than cause chaos and upset. Get a life and give us poor travellers a break! What would the Unions 'big bods' do without strikes? - it sounds like money for old rope to me. After all it is not in their best interests to have peace on the rail front - when are people going to open their eyes to these clowns?
The problem is that the RMT only think in terms of strikes. As a daily user of the trains I am fed up with the behaviour of the RMT. Some of the guards I meet are well motivated and very helpful, others are a total waste of space. Address the safety issue, but stop using passengers as cannon fodder.
If there is no guard, who will the little old lady who has reserved a seat get to remove the skinhead who is sitting in it?
Andrew J Hughes, Bristol, UK
As a daily user of trains I dread the intervention of bureaucrats who normally travel by car and have no appreciation of the worries of train users. I want someone whose responsibility is my safety available during my journey, and not just at the end when I can walk down the platform and talk to the driver. Let's have safety, not profits for shareholders.
It is nice to see a balance of opinions on this talking point. Many people are thinking for themselves about rail safety, rather than taking in the rabid rantings of the right-wing, anti-union tabloid press. Although, some sympathy must go to those correspondents who have to take a "precious" day's leave or have their travelling inconvenienced by having to get out of bed earlier one day out of 365 - they really do deserve my sympathy if they are so self-centred as to be unconcerned about the safety of themselves and others over their own personal convenience.
Gary Dale, England
Sssshhh! Don't tell the underground workers that they are missing out on a strike... No but seriously, the lack of guards on some underground trains is astonishingly dangerous. On countless occasions, I have had to force open doors which have trapped unsuspecting people. The drivers (with no guard to help them) are often in such a hurry and now they have CCTV in the cab, are even less likely to peep out to double check everyone is clear. If this strike is for similar genuine safety reasons then I will accept it (and hope my employers continue to be as understanding as they are when I can't get to work).
The rail industry is at an all time low and actions such as these do little to improve things. Guards would gain more respect from passengers if they actually appeared to be doing their job rather than just reading the paper in the rear cab. These people are paid to do a job and they do actually do it for some operators but there are some who do nothing either for train safety or revenue protection.
Striking is not a luxury; it is a right; and also a necessity, on the occasions it is resorted to by working people. All that Railtrack cares about is cutting the cost of running the railways in order to maximise their dividend to shareholders. Thank God that the RMT is standing up to them!
I couldn't care less about these strikes. I was forced to abandon this country's pathetic excuse for a public transport system a few months ago. I now use my car to get to work - I leave home when I want, arrive at work when I want, travel in comfort and if it wasn't for the unbelievable amount of tax on fuel it would be a lot cheaper than using PT as well.
I doubt if I will notice the strike as most trains I go to catch are cancelled anyway. Most guards I have dealings with are unfriendly and curt. I don't envy their job but it still relatively well paid.
I was a guard at the time of the very first driver only trials. I worked a freight train from Ipswich to Willesden in West London as a guard and worked a return train back to Ipswich. My return working had come from Manchester without a guard without any problems. I realised the way of things then and moved into the footplate and became a driver.
Sadly the guards do not hold my view. I worked trains for all my driving career without a guard, well occasionally I had a guard, but I did not miss one nor have I witnessed or read about an incident in the UK where lives would have been saved had the guard been there. This is an age where technology can drive a train without a driver, why should a guard still be needed? In case of an accident? Were the guards' duties noted at Paddington, Watford, Hatfield? No, technology had already done its job and protected the survivors.
Tom Knight, UK
The service is useless and I don't care who's striking or why, if it wasn't the guards, it'd be something else. Time to renationalise.
Please bring back our train guards! I travel on Connex on a suburban line in and out of Central London every day and the state of the trains is an absolute disgrace. Travelling on them late at night can be daunting with the presence of vagrants, drunks, drug addicts and beggars using the train to beg, eat, sleep, argue, smoke, take drugs etc. They would not be there if there was a guard on the train. We pay such a stupid amount of money for our travelcards and where are the returns? I'm fully supporting the guards.
I travel everyday on Connex South Eastern from Bromley to the city and have to say that on the new (relatively) trains I have never seen a guard in the rush hour. All this means to me is I will either have to drive up (nightmare)and find somewhere to park (triple nightmare)or take a day's holiday which I feel the rail industry should pay for. Why on earth can't BR get their priorities in order in the first place. Sack the whole lot of them and give the jobs to people who will appreciate it. First it's red coats and now it's Kit-Kats!
I am sure safety would be improved more if we took the guards salary and spent it on the Automatic Train Protection system.
Is there any evidence than the train lines that employ guards have a better safety record than those who don't?
I hardly think they are deterrent to crime - a train is a large area for crime to be carried out - one man is about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. Guards should just accept that they are like silent movie actors- defunct and not needed in today's world. Go look for another job and see how your striking antics work in the real world.
I'm afraid that a lot of people here are suffering from serious misinformation. Guards are needed on slam door trains for public safety until these trains are eventually replaced. On sliding door trains, all these guards effectively do is open and close the automatic doors. The rest of the time they are either asleep or reading a newspaper in their cab. Some safety role this is! Driver Only Operation (DOO) is the only way forward. It will allow these people to be re-employed in a new role which actually serves their customers inside the carriage by selling and checking tickets, providing security, information and catering where necessary. This function is already commonplace in a many areas.
I travel on GNER where we have been hit the most by delays, etc - the last thing we need is days of striking. I do feel though that we do need the guards because during the worst period of the delays if it were not for the guards then there would probably have been war on those trains. They have been through as much as the rest of us if not more and I feel that they have not been properly recognised.
Been a witness to a serious assault on a moving train is not a nice experience. Fortunately the service I use is run with a guard, and boy was I pleased that he was there that night, I dread to think what could have happened if he wasn't. I am in full support of this piece of action, safety must be the most important point on the rail companies agenda. I wouldn't use a train service that didn't have a guard.
Despite the inconvenience, the strikers deserve support on this one. The privatised companies have dismissed, or reduced the role of so many experienced staff over the last six years, it is little wonder the safety levels are so dismal today.
Why do they have to do this to us? I have never seen a guard do anything useful on a train, just get rid of them if they're going to keep on striking. The railways should be something that cannot be affected by strikes. They are vital to all of us without cars, or should we never travel further than the local bus routes? I was fuming to say the least when I heard this, the strike has to be on the very day I plan to travel, doesn't it?
The guards have a relevant grievance. They ensure our safety and should be relied on to carry out the task with the full backing of their employer. How often do we hear about trains that have gone through red lights? Why do they do it? What price do we put on safety of life? Now they want us to trust the train drivers to ensure the safety of all the passengers as well as concentrate on imposed speed limits, look out for debris on the tracks put there on purpose by mindless vandals, and, no doubt, a lot of other tasks that we probably do not appreciate are required of train drivers. Let the train drivers drive the trains and let the guards and their on-board staff get on with the job of ensuring that the passengers are as safe and comfortable as possible!
Russell O, England
Guards are an essential part of a safe railway, and should be respected by all rail operators. On the London tube, when guards were abolished, there was a sharp increase in safety related incidents, so the importance of the guard's role cannot be underestimated.
I have spent the last six months planning a holiday, during the course of which, having no car myself, I had planned to undertake a train journey to Wales for two days break in Snowdonia. I have already paid for the accommodation and the money is non-returnable. Suffice to say my break will be disrupted irreparably and I will have wasted time and money planning it. If any guards' union members are reading this and have a shred of conscience, I suggest you offer to compensate me and countless others whose plans are wrecked, or better still find me alternative means of getting to my destination on time and at no extra cost, if you really want to claim to have passengers' interests at heart.
Charles Porter, USA (ex-UK)
If they're not careful there won't be anyone's safety left to ensure. People are deserting the railways and this type of action is not helping. There needs to be a corporate effort in the rail industry to improve confidence.
Sack the shareholders:
The rail companies are putting profits before people. Guards are professionals whose views and opinions should be influencing decision-making, not finance, when people's lives are at stake. If renationalising the railways is not an option, perhaps they should become employee owned.
I see that three of the train companies unaffected by these strikes have no guards. So surely the solution is staring us in the face. Anyway, Kit Kats should be available on all trains.
Daniel Boys, Surrey, UK
The guards ought to be thanked for giving up a day's pay for rail safety, not condemned as 'dinosaurs', a term better applied to the blinked and profit-hungry rail companies.
I am pleased to say that as WAGN (we are going nowhere) have no guards, the strike action will not affect my Welwyn Garden City to Old Street daily trip...
Given the safety record of Britain's rail services I would have thought the rail companies would want as much help as they can get to ensure passenger safety. What a shame that workers willing to take on these responsibilities have been snubbed like this.
Colin Hills, Germany
While I understand their reasons, it won't change the fact that I either have to use a day of my precious holiday or take unpaid leave! It always boils down to a strike when issues arise, is there not a better way to resolve things?
Either you want to continue working as a guard or you don't. Unemployment in Britain is low, go get another job.
More disruption for commuters' already uncomfortable journeys - bad!
No staff to help when things go wrong - even worse. I'd rather suffer through a few days of striking than travel on trains that have no guards on them who will help passengers when things do go wrong.
Robin Wickenden, England
Why is it that they're allowed to get away with striking? I thought that this was seen to be an ineffective way of showing displeasure. When will they learn that striking only alienates them from those who pay their wages?
For a country with so much money isn't it about time problems like this were sorted? Railtrack has to take the responsibility instead of passing the buck all of the time!
The train service is a joke these days. My suggestion is to concrete over the railways and have an extended coach network instead.
Jay Maniar, UK
It's about time the dinosaurs were put to rest for good.
The guard on the Intercity train involved in the Ladbroke Grove crash actually prevented a following train adding to the pile up by putting clamps on the tracks. Doesn't that show the need for the guard to have a safety responsibility?
Having travelled on British Rail, I can state honestly that the guards have a legitimate grievance. They are the ones who insure safety, not regulations posted by bureaucrats who've probably never spent more than a handful of minutes on the lines.
12 Jun 01 | UK
Strike disruption on railways
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