News from the railways

After laughing heartily at the RMT scheduling a strike on a day when the targeted service wasn’t running I headed of to the RMT website for a bit of (one sided) background. Once there I discovered their hard hitting rebuttal as to what it is guards do besides open doors and why death, destruction and misery will result if they are taken away. By going back a mere two decades they’ve dragged up four whole examples, but surely they are vital examples? Well no they’re not.

Finnieston West Junction Derailment – September 1990 – Apparently without a guard the train driver would not have noticed the end of his train had derailed. The sudden drop in speed, the noise, the horrific vibrations all of these the driver would have missed or just frivolously ignored, thankfully the guard was there to tell the driver to stop the train.

Newton Junction Collision– July 1991 – A nasty one with four dead including both drivers. Consulting the the official investigation report I note that yes it was the guard who called in to isolate the line. However I also note the evidence points out the maligned Ticket Examiner’s evidence states he didn’t call to isolate the line as he saw the guard had already done so. More damning is the evidence later on that a DOO (Drive Only Operation) train is just as vulnerable to passing a red signal as one with a guard. Given the main cause there was a SPAD (signal passed at danger) surely the RMT should be focusing more on stopping that than the irrelevant point of whether a guard is present? But then again that wouldn’t support their point so that’s clearly out.

Branchton Derailment and Collision – June 1994 – Another fatal one but this time there doesn’t appear to have been a HSE investigation, certainly none of the usual sources have one available. So I’m reduced to trusting the RMTs word for what occurred, fortunately it’s a bit flimsy and amounts to ‘Yes it went well that time but he wasn’t trained as well as a guard and everyone could have died.’

Speaking as someone who’s been of a few of these course the procedure is; Call the signaller, tell him the trains crashed, get the power turned off (if 3rd rail or the overheads are down), then get the hell out of there. There is not a lot  more to it than that, any actual rescue is really best left to the fire brigade and the signaller is best placed to stop another train ploughing into you, assuming the driver pays attention to a red signal, which is not guaranteed.

It is that lack of guarantee that brings us to the RMTs point that instead of just relying on the driver doing his job you could lay some small detonators a mile or so up track from the crash site. Of course this assumes you have the dets, that they’re working and in date, that you can abandon the crash site and any wounded there and there are no branch lines, junctions, tunnels or other railway features in the way.  Assuming all that is true you can lay your dets down, the train foes over setting them off, the driver hears them and then stops. Or does he? As we saw above RMT assume drivers will ignore the noise and vibration of the back end of their train falling off the track, but somehow they believe the incendiary fury of a few not very impressive detonators will cause an instant emergency brake. I’m sure there’s some logic there but damned if I can see it.

Near fatal incident avoided on Driver Only Operation service at Strood – December 2009 – Ahh a recent one! One which has actually happened under the evils of unsafe privatisation as opposed to the halcyon days of fully nationalised British Rail. Incidentally I do hope someone pulls Bob Crow up on why it appears none of these sort of ‘problems’ occurred under privatised RailTrack but have now started again under public Network Rail? Cruel trolling and blatantly misleading I know, but damn it would be amusing.

Anyway onto the alleged issue, well it appears that despite ‘informing the Rail Accident Investigation Bureau’ the RAIB don’t care and aren’t investigating. Indeed with January and February incidents up and under investigation I would be somewhat surprised if anything came of it, so clearly not a ‘near-certain fatality’ or they damned well would have investigated, that’s their job.  Still never let actual facts get in the way of a good insinuation in your press release hey Bob? Moreover quite what a guard was supposed to do is really not clear, stop passengers being in a hurry and clumsy presumably.  Good luck with that one Bob, what’s next World Peace?

Now, lest I be accused of relentless negativity, let me present the counter-point;

Cowden Station – October 1994 – I found this while looking for the Branchton report and interesting reading it makes. Consider this juicy portion from Point 6 of the Summary;

The guard of the Up  train was  riding irregularly in the driver’s cab. There appears to be no reason for the  total disregard of the signal aspect other than distraction of the driver.

It then goes  on to explain that there was some doubt as to who was driving (i.e. it could have been the guard) but that the driver was solely responsible for the accident, this being back in the days when members of the RMT could be blamed for causing accidents that were their fault. Now investigations are conducted in a ‘blame free environment’ where no-one is at fault and the answer is always more paperwork and more money. Personal responsibility? Bob’s heard of it and believe it should only apply to management.

Back on subject you could make a good case on the basis of selective quotes from the Cowden report and others like it that guards are actively dangerous and should be banned as a safety measure. Indeed there’s more evidence they are dangerous than to their alleged safety critical role, so I therefore applaud ScotRail (something I hate doing as they are part of the First group and thus agents of Satan) for taking a pro-active and fact based approach to safety on the railways.


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