20 years of defending the safety critical role of the guard

The current struggle in defence of the safety critical role of the guard is not a new one. The threat to eradicate this role began in 1997. Although the media has presented the issue as one of who will open the train doors, it is about who controls the train. In the event of a crash, a dead or seriously injured driver cannot take charge. The classic case of the crucial role of the guard was the Ladbroke Grove crash where the drivers of two trains which collided were killed together with 29 others. Writing in support of the RMT in its current dispute a survivor of the 1999 crash wrote:

“Dear Sirs,

As the anniversary of the Paddington train crash passed yesterday – I wanted to write and offer my voice in support of your dispute with Southern.
As a survivor of the crash in which 31 died and countless others were burnt and injured, I am only too aware of the role of the guard/conductor.
Colin, our guard helped many people and in my eyes was a hero, directing many survivors to safety. What did the drivers do you may ask?
Sadly, they were both immediately killed which for me underlines the deep importance of guards in the event of a serious incident.
We must not forget either that the incident was caused by lazy management and lack of communication.
I wish you well in your endeavours
Helen Mitchell”

Looking through my extensive RMT archive ( I spent 24 years in the railway industry) I came across a copy of “Justice for traincrew” from the spring of 2003. It deals with the issue of the safety critical role of the guard, including an article by Alex Gordon, then on the RMT executive, which explains the history of the on-going dispute and management’s attempt to dispense with the role. (See the link below)

Ironically the newsletter includes a joint statement by the RMT and ASLEF which called for the restoration of guards on all trains and an end to the extension of Driver Only Operation. The ASLEF membership’s rejection of the disgraceful deal cobbled together by the union’s leadership and management, has I understand, not stopped the ASLEF leaders from meeting with management without the RMT involved.

The newsletter from 2003 is a reminder that this has been a long and hard battle but a critically important one. The RMT’s dogged and principled defence of the safety critical role of the guard deserves the support of all trades unionists and the travelling public whose safety is at stake. There should be a guard on every train.


Martin Wicks

February 25th 2017




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