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New Trains Mythbusters

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New state-of-the-art trains are set to be introduced on to the Merseyrail network by 2020, replacing the current fleet, which is approaching 40 years old. To help clear up some of the myths and concerns surrounding the new trains, each one is answered below. 

RMT Claim…monitoring a set of CCTV screens in the cab, until the train has left the station is completely at odds with the requirements of basic railway safety…

This is not true. There are rail industry standards for DCO/DOO, which set out safe operation in relation to monitoring CCTV. They state that screens can remain on, and therefore be monitored, until the train has moved 120m. The driver’s rule book does not, as implied by the RMT, require signals and the track to be observed to the exclusion of all other tasks. By comparison, anybody driving a car is expected to look ahead through the windscreen, at side and rear view mirrors, as well as keeping an eye on the dashboard.

Merseyrail drivers are highly trained, experienced professionals.  The training for the new fleet will be both comprehensive and rigorous, complying with the highest industry standards. 

Merseytravel Stadler General 01

RMT Claim… The decision to remove guards is all about money and Chair of Merseytravel, Cllr Liam Robinson, admitted to us, this is all about money…

It isn’t. The cost of the project and the retention of guards shouldn’t be conflated as an issue. Introducing DCO, which does not require guards for dispatch, combined with other improvements, most effectively allows us to meet very specific safety recommendations for our network following the fatal incident at James St in 2011.

Where we have referred to cost is in relation to the new on-board customer service roles. Around 60 positions will be created, with staff deployed at key locations and times. We recognise that it would improve customer service to have a member of customer service staff on every train, but there are not the financial resources available for this and, even if there were, it would not represent value for money in any case, especially on a frequent stop network with stations staffed first to last train.

The trains are owned publically on behalf of the people of the Liverpool City Region, and with no council tax increases or fare rises as a result. To keep a second member of staff on every train, fares would have to increase by up to 25%Interestingly the RMT, in relation to their own resources have said that the union has ‘a fiduciary duty to manage its investments effectively and efficiently’

Merseytravel Stadler General 02

RMT Claim… profit is being put before passenger safety...

This is wrong on many counts. The new trains will be safer than the ones they replace in many ways, through DCO dispatch to most effectively meet safety recommendations specifically for our network, and through innovative features such as sliding steps to remove the ‘gap’ between the platform and the train. DCO is not about removing the guard and keeping everything else the same but ensuring that the right technology, processes and procedures are all in place.

The concession agreement Merseyrail has with Merseytravel means Merseyrail cannot make any additional profits as a result of the new fleet being introduced. 

Merseytravel Stadler Onboard 02

RMT Claim…Merseyrail are also completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers, who overwhelmingly oppose the idea of Driver Only Operated trains on their trains…

The RMT uses various sources to back up the claim that passengers support the current staffing arrangements, including commonly and inaccurately quoting figures from research Merseytravel commissioned independent passenger watchdog, Transport Focus, to carry out with passengers in 2013 to help inform the design of the train.

A common figure the RMT use from Merseytravel’s research – 86% – actually represents passengers’ positive assessment of personal safety – nothing explicit about on-board staffing. Passengers’ views of on-board staffing are, in fact, considered elsewhere in the report and highlight concerns with the current arrangements, in particular the fact that many passengers are not even aware that there is a guard on board. 

This view is reinforced by the National Passenger Satisfaction Survey, which consistently reveals that satisfaction with the availability of on-board staff is modest.  The latest national Passenger Focus survey (published June 2016) found that only 62 per cent of those questioned were satisfied with the availability of on-board train staff on the Merseyrail network, while 14% were dissatisfied. Merseytravel’s view is that this is primarily caused by the inherent inflexibility of the guards’ current role which commonly sees them in the back cab or limited in how they can assist passengers, breaking off to open and close doors every few minutes.

We fully recognise that there are some people who will be reassured by a second member of staff on a train and so we are confident that the new arrangements, with around 60 dedicated on-board customer service staff targeted at key locations and times, will substantially improve the visibility of on-board staff.

RMT also commonly quote their own survey (which we note has not be made publically available)  in support of keeping the existing staffing arrangements. However, at the time of this survey (published Jan 2016) no information was available about the new trains or how they would be staffed so it is understandable that people being questioned would relate their responses to the role of the guard on the current trains and not the new ones. As the survey was online, we would also be interested in how they selected their respondents to ensure they were representative of the travelling public.

What Merseytravel’s commissioned research did show is that passengers’ number one concern is the gap between the train and the platform.  Our proposed solution provides a massive improvement in this regard.  They also said they would like to see CCTV with images displayed on board.  Stadler incorporated these ideas into their proposals.

Merseytravel Stadler Onboard 03

RMT Claim…To comply with the RAIB recommendation, either the new trains must have a drop-down window for the guard to physically observe the platform-train interface, or the CCTV screens should be sited in the guard’s compartment…

Trains are configured to the needs of the network they operate on. We’re taking decisions for our network, including how best to meet specific safety recommendations following the fatality at James St in 2011. Any comparisons with other networks are irrelevant. We have not said that DCO is the only way of meeting these recommendations, but it is the most effective way, and is the mode of operation all bidders suggested.

While we can talk at length and in detail about why the suggestions by the RMT are not suitable for the Merseyrail network, we can highlight a few key points.

  • Proposal for guard to monitor CCTV:  One key disadvantage of this is that the only location from which this could be practically achieved (where the guard would also be able to stop the train directly and quickly in an emergency–a key safety recommendation we must comply with) is the rear cab.  In this arrangement, the guard would be monitoring exactly the same the equipment as is available to the driver but from the other end of the train.  Therefore, the guard would become effectively consigned to working in the rear cab, or the in carriage immediately beyond it, being unable to assist the majority of passengers.  
  • Proposal for drop-down window: This is dangerous as, in order to meet a key safety recommendation, the guard would have to lean out of the window to monitor the train-platform edge until the train has left the platform. A number of platforms run immediately into tunnels. Secondly, as there are many curved platforms on the network guards would not be able to see the entire train length from this position, compromising their ability to safely dispatch the train. Finally, as drop down windows aren’t permitted within the passenger parts of the train, the guard would be limited again to the vicinity of the rear cab, meaning that they wouldn’t be available to assist the majority of passengers. 

Merseytravel Stadler Onboard 05

RMT Claim… The introduction of DOO elsewhere on the national railway network and on London Underground has resulted in a significant increase in the number in incidents involving passengers being caught in doors or falling under trains…

This is false. We have examined the accident reports and statistics in order to ensure that dispatch risks are understood and mitigated. There is no direct correlation between incidents at the platform-train edge on the network and the methods by which the train is dispatched. We found :-

  • The rate of incidents at the platform-train edge most closely correlates with the number of passenger journeys and not with the type of dispatch method.
  • Incidents at the platform-train edge unfortunately do happen on guard operated trains.  When considered nationally, the rates of platform-train edge incidents on driver and guard operated dispatch are so close as for the difference to be negligible. Therefore, the presence of the guard is no guarantee of risk free dispatch.  Our network currently has one of the country’s highest rates of serious incident at the platform-train edge.
  • Common factors are trap and drag incidents, passengers being under the influence of drugs or alcohol or passengers rushing closing doors.  While the RMT’s publications misleadingly attempt to correlate incident probability with the method of train dispatch, their research does reveal a clear link with each of these factors. New features of the trains on our network such as doorway illumination, sensitive door edges and effective removal of the ‘gap’, will significantly reduce the risk of these happening. 

Merseytravel Stadler Onboard 09A

RMT claim... A guard is needed in the event the driver is incapacitated...

Driver incapacitation is exceedingly rare. While it would be dangerous to plan on it never happening , it is sensible to put the likelihood in context. In  10 years of records on the Merseyrail network, there have been no incidents resulting in physical incapacitation of the driver– that is more than 36 and a half million train miles without such incident.

The likelihood will reduce further as the new trains will have modern crash-protection designed into the cabs. Even in the unlikely event that it did happen, as would be the case now, the train-board systems would stop the train. When the new fleet is introduced, the control room will be able to see into and have direct communication with the train saloon.  

Merseytravel Stadler Onoff 01

RMT claim… Disabled passengers will be disadvantaged by the removal of the guard...

Not on the Merseyrail network. The new trains and associated infrastructure improvements will make our network the most accessible traditional network in the UK.

Passengers with wheelchairs, buggies and bikes and other mobility challenges will be able to get on and off the train largely unassisted, most notable through a sliding step, removing the need for assistance from station staff who currently deploy ramps.

The trains have also been designed to help assist people with disabilities once they are on board, such as wider, more open carriages that are easier to get about and better defined wheelchair spaces.

The new customer service roles will be based in the saloon of the train, meaning that staff are likely to be more visible, and therefore more able to assist passengers, than now.

Merseytravel Stadler Onoff 04