New safety principles have been published by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), on so-called driver-controlled operation of trains, as unions remain in a standoff with train operators over the move.
The rail regulator has published six principles that it expects train operators to adhere to when rolling out and managing driver-controlled operation (DCO), where the driver is responsible for door operation and determining it is safe to start the train.
Where driver-controlled operation is used or planned:
- Trains need to be compatible with the platforms that they use and the method of operation at these platforms
- Platforms need to be compatible with the trains using them and they must support the methods of operation
- The nature of the operation with the train and platform needs to be assessed, including consideration of passenger needs and behaviour
- Staff should be trained and competent
- Implementation should be planned
- The system should be managed through its whole life, with improvements adopted
Ian Prosser, HM chief inspector of railways, ORR, said: "These principles reinforce our view that suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff must be in place for the safe implementation of driver control operation."
The union response:
Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers' union Aslef, said the "key paragraph" in the ORR's principles is that "suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff must be in place for the safe implementation of driver control operation".
"At the moment they are not," Whelan said. "And they should be achieved through dialogue and partnership with the people who, every day, deliver the service for passengers."
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union criticised the principles as a "rehash of previous statements and principles, that have not been met".
General secretary Mick Cash said: "What is needed is for the parties in all of the current disputes to get round the table without conditions and negotiate a safe and accessible railway that takes account of new technology while maintaining the guaranteed safe staffing levels that the travelling public support."
Strike threat spreads
The matter has been a controversial one, with the unions arguing the move will compromise customer safety. The RMT has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with Southern rail over changes to the role of the guard, with Aslef also becoming involved towards the end of last year.
The row has since spread, with the RMT holding walkouts on Arriva Rail North, which trades as Northern, as well as on Merseyrail last month. A strike is planned for this Saturday 8 April, the day of the Grand National.
But Merseyrail boss Jan Chaudhry-van de Velde pointed to the new principles as reason for the RMT to call off strike action.
"Importantly, it makes clear that the safety of DCO should no longer be the subject for argument," he said. "The question should not be who opens and close the doors, but how staff can be best deployed on-board. We have plenty of time - three years until the trains are introduced in 2010 - to discuss and agree this with the unions. That is why there is no need to go ahead with the damaging Grand National strike."