Govia are seeking to impose driver only operation (DOO) on the Main Line services because it is part of their contract with the government to do so. Therefore the government is very much a party to this dispute.
The January 5 report of the Chief Inspector of Railways based on an examination of train operations between Horsham and Bognor Regis is not at all convincing. Rail operations between Horsham and Bognor Regis where there are rarely more than 200 passengers on a train are hardly typical of the London to Brighton Main Line where there are often more than 1500 passengers in a train.
Gatwick Airport and Brighton both with almost 20 million passengers per year are the two most heavily used stations in the south east outside London. Horsham is tiny by comparison.
The 30 per cent of rail services that are presently operated with the drivers operating the doors are all short trains on relatively low passenger volume services. The line Horsham to Bognor Regis is exactly that.
The unions have more than a few points of legitimate concern about rail safety. In particular:
• With trains of eight coaches and more with 16 or more doors per side to be monitored, the screens in the driver’s cab rotate between cameras. This gives ample opportunity for something of importance not to be seen;
• The company’s video presentation online showed that at the instant where the doors are closed the cameras all shut off. If something thin is caught in a door the driver could not be aware of this. The idea of the driver monitoring the platform/train interface as the train leaves a station as well as observing what may be ahead is pretty silly in safety terms;
• The system as a whole is entirely dependent on the technical reliability of the equipment. The ORR report notes this with the comment ‘with suitable equipment’. If a component is not working the whole multiple carriage set has to be taken out of service until the component can be replaced or repaired.
I have recent experience of this when a supposedly eight carriage train in the rush hours had to be truncated to only four carriages with consequent extreme passenger overcrowding.
• Such overcrowding events are much more likely to lead to passenger difficulties of boarding and alighting with consequent risks especially given the pressure to maintain service schedules and minimise train dwell times. Perhaps the government is not concerned about this but I would suggest that the Health and Safety Executive should be more concerned;
• I suppose that the first injury or worse that comes about through this reliance on technology will be blamed either on human error of the driver, or perhaps the luckless passenger, but most likely it will be the system that is at fault.
The government is underwriting the company’s costs arising from these strikes. It therefore appears that the government is quite prepared to see some 300,000 passengers daily become the cannon fodder in a war between the government and the unions while the company sits idly by ‘laughing all the way to the bank’.
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