SECURITY Minister Ben Wallace’s admission that cutting guards from trains could help drug-trafficking gangs is welcome, if overdue.
His promise to Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock that Home Office officials will “liaise with the Department for Transport to consider this issue further” is better than nothing — but action is unlikely unless MPs demand a reversal of the government’s current policy, which actively pushes rail privateers to axe guards’ jobs.
The drive to get rid of guards is about two things: boosting privateers’ profits and breaking trade union power in a sector where it remains strong. It carries obvious consequences for passenger safety at a time when crime on our railways is rising — with British Transport Police recording a 17 per cent surge over 2017-18, with 11,711 violent incidents on trains and 2,472 sexual offences. It affects disabled access and undermines the ability of our transport network to handle emergencies.
And as Wallace acknowledges, it allows so-called “county lines” drug-traffickers, whose shipments of drugs to rural and seaside locations are fuelling a sharp rise in violent crime in those areas, to easily exploit vulnerable young people groomed to act as their mules without fear that a train guard will spot anything amiss.
A current petition calling for a second safety-critical staff member on all trains deserves our support. As transport union RMT has it: Keep the guard on the train. Keep the train safe.
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