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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October 2003, 16:08 GMT
Rail staff on the beat
Fed up with the vandals and drunkards who spoil his journey, BBC News Online's commuters' champion Jon Yuill gives a cautious thumbs-up to plans to give train staff limited police powers.

Elected: Jon Yuill was voted BBC News Online's rail commuters' champion by users of the site
Voice: His role is to speak up for the commuter
Commute: Married with three children, Jon commutes by train between Witham (Essex) and London
News reaches me that plans are under way which may affect our security when travelling by rail.

Plans are afoot for the British Transport Police to accredit certain rail employees limited police powers to deal immediately with anti-social behaviour. The Department for Transport's consultation period closed on Monday.

Now, you might say what difference does this make to me, an average commuter? Well, you never know when you're going to come across a boisterous Girls Aloud singer or Premiership footballer after a hard day at the office. You need to be secure.

Even more so when you consider that due to modern train design, once you're on, you're on. It's not so much a journey as enforced imprisonment. I myself have been victim to an intimidating experience, but that was my fault for asking directions at Liverpool Street.

Children on the tracks
Vandalism is on the increase
When you first voted me in as your commuters' champ, I set out 10 simple ideas to make life more bearable for fellow commuters - one was for trains to have CCTV. Well, now we are finally getting them. (How long, I wonder, before the first case of "The CCTV wasn't working" syndrome?)

I also called for roving "super guards". I've never been sure exactly what it is that guards guard; all the ones I see are watching over a thermos flask and the Sun. But now they have been all but phased out from many commuter routes, surely it makes sense to have a roving guard/inspector/police presence on our trains.

Commuting can be an ordeal in itself, without having to put up with loutish and sometimes violent intimidation by a group of 15-year-olds, which is what often happens on the way home on Friday nights. So perhaps we as commuters ought to welcome any new powers rail staff may get, to protect both themselves and us from the yobbish (and booze-fuelled) elements of society.

No safety in numbers

Serious crimes on trains are, thankfully, few. But the threat of violence is enough to make several people I know avoid the whole train experience. Commuters, who often have to work late and travel alone, need the reassurance that their journey will be safe, especially given how often onlookers fail to come to the aid of others for fear of getting involved.

Offences I believe should be tackled are:

  • anti-social behaviour,
  • violence or the threat of violence,
  • vandalism to trains and stations.

I'd also welcome public flogging for chewing gum and excessive mobile phone use, but that may take a little longer.

I don't know the criteria for who will be chosen to be trained up to the new police powers. Will they have to wear pointy hats and grow a moustache?

But if done properly, and enforced, this development can only be good for the vast majority of commuters who simply want to get from A to B and back again in safety.

Just as long as the rail employees remember where their new duties begin and end. Otherwise, they may end up charging the operating companies for running a railway under false pretences.

Agree with Jon? Use the form below to have your say.

How about a hotline so you can call/text someone with what train you're on, the carriage and details of what anti-social behaviour is occurring and at the next stop someone gets on to deal with the problem.
Dan, Cowbridge, Wales

A great idea. Except the slovenly attitude of guards on my service means they rarely even bother to check tickets. Nasty little yobs are fond of occupying First Class and vandalising it, chiefly because it is more private. I want action, not fine intentions!
Jon Bradbury, Worthing, UK

I no longer work in London and look back on my five years as a commuter like a tour of 'Nam. I have witnessed dozens of acts of casual violence, vandalism and anti-social behaviour and I was physically assaulted twice. The final straw came when I tried to stop a racist attack on a very frightened lady. Despite the train being packed full, I was the only one who intervened. I earned a broken tooth and a bloody nose for my efforts and later I realised it could so easily have been worse. The introduction of CCTV and more police can only be a good thing, but I'll never feel comfortable using the Tube again.
Lee Hadley, London

How many train guards will be willing to risk their own safety for the sake of the wages they earn? I can see this turning into the provision of yet another bureaucracy to punish commuters involved in trivial disputes while ignoring the drunken yob swearing at everyone and smoking in the no-smoking section.
John B, UK

I'm not surprised there are drunks on trains when alcohol is sold from trolleys on them and at bars inside stations.
Gideon, Reigate, UK

One guard on a train is not going to be much good against a gang of five or six drunken yobs. A better idea would be police at each station ready to board the train and arrest the yobs combined with CCTV and/or a warning alarm that could be triggered by passengers if things get really out of hand.
Toby Josham, UK

I never ever go on the trains late at night, I never go to the events my firm holds because of going on the train at nights and I feel afraid, what with the drunks and yobs. I am going out tonight, as my boss is retiring, I am dreading it, but I must go. I hope nothing happens, I will keep myself to myself and not look at anyone. If I have problems I will e-mail you again.
Kathy S, Essex

I recently had a bad experience with a "revenue control officer" at one of my stations after I was sold a ticket with a wrong date stamp. Having told him I was a student, he immediately decided I was a liar and called the police. After the mess was sorted out I discovered that this over zealous ticket controller was a member of the special constabulary..
F Heritage, UK

I can't see that lone train guards will be either willing or effective at curbing the yob culture. Perhaps an airline type system would be more effective whereby drunks or yobs (whose standards of behaviour are usually evident before boarding) are refused boarding at main terminal stations.
Mark G, London

Erm, is it me or are you missing the point? Let's have a more visible British Transport Police presence on the trains, not some half baked guard come rent-a-cop.
Matt, Liverpool, UK

A long overdue idea, get Anti-Social Behaviour Orders on trains and improve security. We pay enough for our service, how about something in return. People can be banned from town and city centres, why not trains? Too long we have put up with an ignorant minority of people, not just teenagers, making a quiet train journey more like a visit to a squat.
Iain , Scotland

I too have been assaulted, I was with my wife when a rather large, drunk, very well dressed city type of about 55 to 60-years-old stretched out and rested his shoes on my wife's coat. We were on the facing seats. Rather than face a confrontation we tried to leave. This resulted in well dressed city yob kicking, then punching me. Of course I retaliated as he had hold of my hair and I couldn't get out of the compartment. We had to fight our way out! The guard in this case was very helpful, not much he could do though as the incident was over. We didn't press it further as in court we would be dealing with a well dressed upright and sober pillar of the community rather than a drunk yob in a pinstripe.
Simon Mallett, Kent

Unfortunately, all of us commuters know what will happen. This will cost a small fortune while consultants "look at options", nothing will happen but the effects will result in another excuse to raise, what are already excessive fares, even higher.
Kevin Smith, Eastbourne, UK

Even if trains were cheap, reliable, all first class, served free food and drink, I'd still prefer to sit in my car in a traffic jam than risk a yob ridden train journey.
John Leonarj, Leeds, England

This is just not a good idea, who is really going to put themselves at risk. Not a train guard on little more than minimum wage. There is an increasing element of violence on trains and at stations. The other day I watched as two guards just let a rather verbal individual through the gates with obviously no ticket because they didn't want any trouble, where as the average innocent commmuter will have the police called for being honest and telling the guards they purchased the wrong ticket.
Nick, London UK

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