20 years of defending the safety critical role of the guard

February 25, 2017

The current struggle in defence of the safety critical role of the guard is not a new one. The threat to eradicate this role began in 1997. Although the media has presented the issue as one of who will open the train doors, it is about who controls the train. In the event of a crash, a dead or seriously injured driver cannot take charge. The classic case of the crucial role of the guard was the Ladbroke Grove crash where the drivers of two trains which collided were killed together with 29 others. Writing in support of the RMT in its current dispute a survivor of the 1999 crash wrote:

“Dear Sirs,

As the anniversary of the Paddington train crash passed yesterday – I wanted to write and offer my voice in support of your dispute with Southern.
As a survivor of the crash in which 31 died and countless others were burnt and injured, I am only too aware of the role of the guard/conductor.
Colin, our guard helped many people and in my eyes was a hero, directing many survivors to safety. What did the drivers do you may ask?
Sadly, they were both immediately killed which for me underlines the deep importance of guards in the event of a serious incident.
We must not forget either that the incident was caused by lazy management and lack of communication.
I wish you well in your endeavours
Helen Mitchell” Read the rest of this entry »


Signal Failure – Rail privatisation & the fight against it

April 24, 2015

20 years ago I wrote a pamphlet for the Thames Valley District Council of the RMT.  The text on the back page reads:

“Rail privatisation is a universally unpopular measure save for a few ‘free market’ ideologues and managers looking to make a financial killing in line with the top dogs in the other privatised public utilities.

This pamphlet examines the method of privatisation, the results so far, and the likely ones in the future should a feeble government survive.

It examines the historical background to the decline of the railways in Britain, under both Tory and Labour governments.

It proposes an expansion of the rail network in the interests of tackling the environmental crisis, improving the service to the customers and creating a socialist plan for job creation.

It calls for an unequivocal commitment from the Labour Party to re-nationalise the entire network, though not to be run by a government appointed businessman on a profit-making basis. It looks at the debate in the old NUR over how a socialised railway could be run by the staff who work in it, at the service of social needs.

It examines the connection of this issue to the debate in the Labour Party over the question of Clause 4 of the constitution (“common ownership of the means of production, distribution, exchange.”

At the time, of course, the union was still affiliated to the Labour Party but the experience of the Labour Government from 1997, led to the union being expelled from it. What had been a Labour-loyalist union was alienated by the refusal of the Government to take a single step towards re-nationalisation and the practical consequences of New Labour’s support for the “dynamic market economy”.

You can read the pamphlet or download it from here: signalfailure

It was written under a pen name because of the threat of victimisation.


Rolling Stock company Porterbrook sold on… again

October 14, 2014

The Financial Times reported that Porterbrook, one of the three main rolling stock companies that own Britain’s trains, has been sold for an undisclosed sum. The company owns and manages nearly 6,000 passenger and freight vehicles which are leased to train operators such as Great Western Trains, South West Trains and Northern Rail.

Porterbrook has been sold to a consortium which includes an Australian asset manager Hastings, Canada’s Alberta Investment Management Corporation and EDF Invest of France. Porterbrook has been sold on a number of times since it was set up in 1994 when British Rail was privatised. At the time there were two other companies set up by the government, Angel Trains and Eversholt. Each received about one third of the rolling stock. Read the rest of this entry »


The case of the phantom signal boxes – Network Rail propaganda and the balloting regulations

April 3, 2010

The injunction against the RMT in relation to its strike action on Network Rail was supposedly based on ‘irregularities’ in the ballot.

According to the Guardian:

The rail operator (Network Rail) argued that the closeness of the vote meant that the votes of just 112 of 4,556 signallers balloted could have changed the result. The company presented a string of alleged irregularities including 11 “phantom” signal boxes that should not have featured in the ballot.”

In addition 23 workplaces were supposedly “excluded from the vote”, 12 were “included where there are no RMT members”, and at 67 locations the RMT “balloted more members than there are employees”.

In fact this has little purchase on reality. Network Rail is being disingenuous. Firstly, workplaces cannot be “excluded from the vote” since the ballot is of individual union members, with postal ballots sent to their home addresses.

Read the rest of this entry »


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