Train strikes explained: Why more action is taking place to protect the role of guards

Halifax train station
Halifax train station

This week will see RMT, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, go on strike next week affecting train services in the North of England.

Strikes will take place on today, March 26, and Thursday, March 29, as RMT members have been instructed not to book on for any shifts that commence on those two days between midnight and 11.59pm.

Find out more: Rail chief pledges to keep Calderdale moving as two-day strike looms

This strike is part of an ongoing dispute with Northern Rail about the role of guards on trains and increasing extension of Driver Only Operation.

This will mean that drivers, not guards, facilitate in tasks usually undertaken by guards such as the opening and closing of trains doors.

READ MORE: Northern Rail strike: Limited services and disruption due to 24-hour walkout by RMT union members

The expansion of Driver Only Operation will result in nearly half a million trains running annually without a guard on board, something which the RMT believes is all in the name of increased profits.

RMT also believes that guards are safety-critical, something which will be reduced if all guards are removed from their duties on trains.

In order to attain their ‘safety-critical’ status, guards are thoroughly trained and regularly re-assessed in order to get their conductor license.

RMT state that “this dispute is about putting the safety of the travelling public before the profits of the private train companies” and with the intentions of this strike being made clear and RMT’s belief that guards on trains are integral to the safety of passengers, the role of the time-old train conductor is now under question.

What does the role of conductor involve?

Conductors aid in a multitude of tasks on a day-to-day basis, including the safe dispatching of trains, which includes ensuring doors are closed and nobody is trapped or could be trapped and making sure the signal is the right colour and therefore if the train is able to leave or not.

Guards also provide customer service both on and off the trains, including printing journey timetables, selling and checking tickets, helping wheelchair and mobility impaired passengers and helping to get buggies and bikes on and off the trains.

They also usually know how to work various types of trains, including fixing faults and having good route knowledge, which therefore helps with customer enquiries.

Conductors are also trained to know where, when and how to evacuate in an emergency, and undertake security checks if anything seems out the ordinary.


The dispute continues

These strikes are not the first as train guards continue to believe that their work is an integral part of the running of trains and the safety of passengers, particularly expressing that the safe dispatch of trains will be detrimentally under threat if guards are removed from this task and from trains completely.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash states that “Every single effort that RMT has made to reach a negotiated settlement with Northern Rail over safe operation and safe staffing has been kicked back in our faces”. Mr Cash’s statment shows the continuing dispute between RMT and Northern Rail over safety on trains, as RMT believe that the implementation of the Driver Only Operation threatens this.

Mr Cash also states that “It is frankly ludicrous that we have been able to negotiate long-term arrangements in Scotland and Wales that protect the guards and passenger safety but we are being denied the same opportunities with rail companies in England”.

This shows the disparity between parts of the UK in regards to the implementation of Driver Only Operation and the retention of guards.

RMT hope to make their voice heard in strikes next week and hope that Northern Rail will either enter into negotiations or change their stance on the implementation of Driver Only Operation.

As this new operation threatens to reduce guards on trains and potentially make them a thing of the past, RMT workers are coming together to show their belief that they are an integral part of the Railway system, and their conviction that they will continue to be needed on trains for a long time to come.