June 2009 - Get over the giggling - this is serious

01 June 2013

At our conference last month Lord Adonis said that while he was going round the country on his highly publicised week long 2,200 miles on 50 trains he found just about everything to his satisfaction, except, he said, ‘the servicing and cleaning of toilets on the trains’.

If he didn’t like the toilet facilities for passengers, he should have taken a look at what’s provided for staff.

Admittedly this would have been difficult on the freight side – because there’s often nothing to look at. I know freight depots where the toilet facilities consist of a portaloo at the entrance, which can be four miles away.

One conference delegate, a passenger train driver, explained that it was normal for drivers in his branch to arm themselves with a plastic bottle when they set out on a turn, and this wasn’t for something to drink. Quite the reverse.

I know we Brits enjoy a good snigger when we mention toilets, but this reluctance to raise the issue may account for the fact that toilet facilities for drivers are an insult to professionals like ourselves. Our cabs, thanks to our cab conditions campaign Squash, are gradually coming up to standard. We’re encouraged into smart uniforms and asked to present ourselves looking tidy and professional. That’s often difficult when you’ve just emerged from a lavatory that Dickens’s urchins would have turned their noses up at.

And however poor the conditions are for men, they are twice as bad for women. Rail companies are supposed to be attracting women into the driving grades. What sort of woman is going to be attracted to work in an area where a prerequisite appears to be the ability to hold your bladder for an eight hour stretch?

Perhaps the only hint of light in this mess is that it proves to our less progressive colleagues that fighting for equal opportunities often benefits us all. We argue for toilet facilities for women and the knock-on is an improvement in the facilities for men.

One of our women drivers told me last week about complaints she’d made over a decade ago about a women’s loo that was unsanitary, unventilated and disgusting. When she’d raised it in the mess room, a few of the men said they didn’t know what she was complaining about: it was no different for men – their toilets were disgusting as well!

In the end the facilities were improved for both men and women at this depot – which is exactly what I like. You do something for someone else and get a benefit for yourself – so you can feel good about doing yourself a favour.

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