‘Probity-ringing’ rail unions urged to end strike after regulator dismissed concerns over train safety
The owner of strike-hit Southern Rail has urged union bosses to call off next week’s industrial action after the rail regulator dismissed concerns over train safety.
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, published a report into driver-only operated trains, which are at the centre of the dispute, which concluded that it was “a safe method of working”.
Southern’s parent company Govia Thameslink (GTR) responded by challenging the drivers’ unions Aslef and RMT to accept a deal to end the strikes.
The RMT, however, dismissed the report as a “whitewash” and disputed several of its findings.
Many are now asking whether this strike has nothing to do with train safety after all and it is just about left-wing unions who are in line with the Labour Party and out to cause as much chaos as possible in order to bring down the government?
In other words, it’s just political point scoring and the ‘Probity-ringing’ of far left-wing unions.
Southern Rail drivers are due to go on strike on three days next week and three more days later this month as part of their continued dispute over proposals that drivers, rather than conductors, should be responsible for shutting doors on trains.
Mr Prosser, who heads the Office of Rail and Road, said: “Following a thorough review of GTR-Southern’s method and implementation of driver only operation, ORR is satisfied that with suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff in place, it is a safe method of working.”
An ORR official carried out inspections on the Horsham to Bognor Regis route in West Sussex, where Driver Only Operation (DOO) of train doors has recently begun.
It was found that although the quality of in-cab CCTV images of platforms varied, all were “adequate”.
A recommendation has been made to Southern to make improvements so that image quality is “consistently high”, including overhauling the cleaning regime of external camera lenses.
Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, said: “This is a powerful report from the independent rail regulator that confirms that Southern’s plans for driver-controlled trains are safe.”
Mr Grayling said he has written to the unions again to ask them to suspend “this needless strike” and claimed the ORR’s report should encourage both sides in the dispute to “get back round the table for talks”.
Charles Horton, chief executive of GTR, said the unions must acknowledge that they have “no credible argument” that DOO is unsafe.
GTR said it had written to Aslef with a formal offer which included upgrades to in-cab CCTV, an indemnity package to protect drivers who have operational incidents, better job security and a stay on further roll-out of DOO without agreement from Aslef.
A spokesman for GTR said: “The ball is now in the unions’ court. This futile industrial action must come to an end. It’s time for both sets of union members to tell their RMT and Aslef leadership in the strongest terms that it’s time to call an end to all this.
“They voted for the original strike action and they have the voice to bring it to an end”.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The report into driver only operation on Southern Rail issued by the ORR this morning is a complete whitewash that proves conclusively that the Office of Road and Rail is no longer fit for purpose and is nothing more than an arm of Government, wholly committed to propping up the train companies and the Department for Transport.
“The authors of this report have taken no evidence from the trade unions, have swallowed whole the distorted pictures painted by Southern Rail and have limited their work to the issue of door control when there is a whole raft of safety issues that are allied to the question of driver only operation.
“That is scandalous.”