Southern rail driver-operated doors: Rail regulator satisfied they are "a safe method of working"

 
Oliver Gill
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The Southern rail network is poised for shutdown next week as a result of industrial action by the Aslef and RMT unions

The chief inspector of railways has concluded Southern rail's plans for driver-operated doors are safe.

Nevertheless, unions highlighted a series of recommendations in the report by Ian Prosser on behalf of regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

Driver-operated doors are at the heart of the Southern rail dispute that has blighted the network for almost a year, with unions consistently claiming that taking control away from the guards is unsafe.

Today's report follows evidence given by Prosser to the transport select committee at the end of last year – following this he promised a thorough investigation into Southern rail's plans. He concluded:

Following a thorough review of Southern’s method and implementation of driver only operation, the ORR is satisfied that with suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff in place, it is a safe method of working.

Read more: Aslef has announced more Southern rail strike dates in January

The ORR did make recommendations to Southern's owners Govia including ensuring CCTV image quality is of sufficient standard.

Govia boss Charles Horton accepted the recommendations, which he said the firm "will action as soon as possible".

Read more: No talks planned to avert next week's Southern rail shutdown

He added: “Today, a third of all trains on the UK rail network run with the driver in sole control... the unions must now acknowledge that they have no credible argument that it’s an unsafe method of operation.

"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."

Disingenuous

However, unions challenged the findings. Mick Whelan, the general secretary of drivers union Aslef. said:

"Despite what Southern railways is disingenuously claiming, the report from the ORR does not give driver only operation a clean bill of health. It doesn’t say it is safe, merely that it can be safe.

You will notice that Ian Prosser, HM chief inspector of railways, is careful to qualify his remarks and say 'with suitable equipment, proper procedures, and competent staff in place' it can be a method of working.

And, indeed, Ian goes on to say that the ORR has made a long list of recommendations for further improvements because they fear it is not safe. Those recommendations, the company concedes, are not yet in place.

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