Unguarded Moment

11Dec19

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Do we need guards on trains?

Up until yesterday, I didn’t understand why the RMT union were causing chaos on Britain’s railways by striking. The RMT are against removing guards from trains. I thought they were protecting the jobs of their members, and maybe that’s part of it, but it’s not the main reason we need to have guards on trains, it’s much more important than that.

Yesterday I was on the 7:26 Thameslink from Hitchin to Brighton. I ride this train every weekday and get off at London Blackfriars. I was at the back of the very last coach of a twelve coach train. About twenty minutes into my forty-one minute journey, the bloke opposite me collapsed and fell into the aisle.

Lots of people surrounded him to check if he was OK and someone shouted, “Push the button and let the driver know!” As the bloke lay unconscious in the aisle, they spoke to the driver on the intercom. He stopped the train between stations somewhere north of Finsbury Park. Luckily, a member of Thameslink staff happened to be in our carriage. She was great and kept things calm while we waited for the driver. She explained that the driver is in charge of the train and makes a decision on what happens, but first he has to assess the situation. We had to wait till he got there.

It seemed to take ages for the driver to arrive because he had to make his way along the full length of the train from the front, right to the very back.

He checked on the bloke who was drifting in and out of consciousness by now and made the decision to push on to Finsbury Park station. He would phone ahead for an ambulance. Then he made his way back to his cab at the other end of the train. I didn’t time it, but it felt like a long time had gone by from when the driver was first alerted to the problem, to when the train started to move again. If this had happened on a later, standing-room-only, train, he would have taken a lot longer or been forced to get off the train and risk his life, walking along the tracks.

The driver should never leave the cab. What if this was a terrorist incident and the man collapsing was a ruse to make the driver leave the cab so someone else could take control of the train? What if the man needed urgent medical help (for all I know, he did) and all of the time wasted stopping the train and having the driver walk the length of it twice had fatal consequences?

If there had been a guard on the train, they could have dealt with the situation, told the driver to keep going and the casualty would have been getting medical attention at Finsbury Park a lot sooner.

You’re a lot safer if there’s a guard on the train.

Craic on!

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7 Responses to “Unguarded Moment”

  1. 1 James

    To “anonymous” the Southern train driver,

    I guess you remained anonymous because you know your comments are a travesty to your colleagues.

    There is no reason a driver should close the doors. Their whole focus should be on the starting signal aspect ahead, or that of their next signal. Not looking at a poor quality CCTV screen to see if the PTI is clear. A guard has unrestricted viewing of the whole train during arrival and dispatch using their eyes, and an emergency stop button there in case.

    You are either (i) ignorant to risks, (ii) greedy for extra £, (iii) not actually a driver.

    How much is a person’s life worth to you? £10k to £15k a year extra in your pocket while you sell your and your guards T&Cs, and passenger safety down the river.

    If you are a driver, I suggest you take a LONG hard look at yourself because you are the problem

  2. 2 Anonymous

    We’ve seen the change from Conductor to On Board Supervisor at Southern and it works! As a driver, I’m happy to open and close the doors. The second person on the train, irrespective of their door capabilities, is essential. The RMT claimed safety would be compromised but it was the collective’s negotiating power that was changed.
    It’s a very narrow way of thinking to suggest that the driver should NEVER leave the cab or that the guard would have been able to handle the situation…in fact, it’s utter nonsense. That situation could have been dealt with a bit quicker if there was a second person on
    board but every situation is different.

  3. 3 Driver of 29 years

    As an Ex Guard and longtime Driver, this situation could and should have been avoided.
    Modern trains allow the driver to over ride the PassComm to get to the next station.
    As a Rule, never pull the Passcom between stations, wait until the train is at a station. That way Paramedics can attend quickly. Drivers have Radio Comms with Signaller (GSMR) and can call the Emergency services and arrange for the best location to meet Paramedics.
    There is no need for the driver to “assess the situation”, I’m guessing the train concerned needed to have the Passcomm reset.
    As for terrorists, seriously? There are easier and probably more effective ways to take control of a train, for obvious reasons I will not discuss these here.
    I was a Guard, then a Conductor Guard then a Driver, and truth be told, the Guard is a useful customer service person to have on board, selling tickets etc. But they aren’t going to stop terrorists and they wont do first aid (Many won’t do sod all, unless they are forced to) , all they can really do is dial 999, which is something 99% of the passengers could do themselves.
    Guards are as relevant today as Second men would be. Sorry RMT, but the truth is you only want Guards to try and retain some industrial muscle.

  4. 4 Anonymous

    All completely wrong, the guard on the train would be able to deal with the situation call control organise medical assistance whilst the drive does what he is paid for and drives the train to the next station where they will be met by the emergency services, that would be quicker than the driver assessing the situation himself.

    Also they are removing the guard from the train plenty of services already have them removed and they will continue to try to save money by removing them from services.

  5. 5 Debbie

    To Rob,

    You’re not a bright spark, are you? The guard contacts control and co-ordinates assistance, if needed.

    As an aside, the emergency services refuse to go onto the tracks unless there is an emergency switch off, this goes for BTP, Fire Brigade, Paramedics etc. Hence why when there is a trespasser, everything grinds to a halt, because for *their* safety, all power must go off to let them do their jobs. If the emergency is in the middle of nowhere, that switch off will cost far more lives, while they sit and wait for paramedics to go for a bit of a run, I don’t want exhausted paramedics, catching their breath, and having to clamber up to tend to an unwell person. Get the sick person to a station.

    The driver *could* leave the cab, but that is taking time away from getting an unwell passenger to a station and getting help, walking the length of a 12 car train and back takes about… 6-7 minutes each way? In a medical emergency, every second counts.

    As I said, you’re not only the dullest bulb in the box, but
    also deliberately obtuse and a fucking liability in an emergency situation.

  6. 6 Rob

    Totally wrong.. guards cannot apply first aid… Why stop the train between stations ??? Get the paramedics to run along the tracks that will save a life. Drivers can leave their seat.. and one guard can deal with a terrorist attack…on their own ??. Maybe we should have 10 to a train then… Or have 3 police with guns and 3 SAS and an undertaker?

  7. 7 Anonymous

    No one’s talking about taking them off the train though, the only thing changing will not be door opening and closing, so more time to spend with passengers….


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