RAIL SAFETY chief George Bearfield came under fire yesterday after he claimed that trains would run more safely without guards.
Mr Bearfield, the system safety and health director at the industry-owned Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), argued that trains fully controlled by drivers are safer than those dispatched by guards.
The RSSB has made a number of interventions backing private franchisees in the current industrial dispute over expansion of driver-only operation. Rail unions warn that the practice threatens safety, disabled access and jobs.
Five rail operators — Northern, Southern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia and South Western — are now facing strikes over the move.
Mr Bearfield, who is a visiting professor at the University of Huddersfield, analysed data from British and European rail networks on major or fatal accidents involving passengers entering and leaving trains.
He found that the risk was higher on both staffed and unstaffed stations when train doors were operated by guards, rather than by drivers.
And he said that doubts about the safety of driver-only operation stemmed from the facts being “not understood by the public.”
The RSSB is owned by private rail operators, infrastructure firms, rolling stock owners and Network Rail, which rail union RMT said was the reason for its support for driver-only trains.
“This report has been written by someone who is employed by the same rail bosses who stand to make huge profits by introducing driver-only trains,” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.
“To try and give this garbage a veneer of academic respectability is all the more laughable when it actually contradicts previous reports by the same organisation on the safety of different methods of train despatch.”
Unions have argued that having a guard on board allows help to be offered to vulnerable passengers and give a sense of security in the face of threats and emergencies.
Mr Bearfield claimed the issue of driver-dispatched trains had been “confused with the very important, but distinct, issues of disability access and perceptions of public security.”
Mr Cash said that this amounts to an acknowledgement of the “adverse impacts on train safety, security and accessibility” when companies remove the guarantee of a guard on their trains.
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