Nov 2006 - Cab conditions add to the hazards of driving

01 June 2013

This Journal reports two rail crashes that occurred last month in Germany and in France. In the first case the 'magnetic levitation' test-train hit a maintenance vehicle. In the other a passenger train and a goods train were both directed down the same track. In a further incident, a train on Rome's underground rammed into another that was standing at the station. These incidents are vivid reminders of the wide range of hazards that ASLEF members face every day - and they reinforce the need to constantly update and strengthen safety standards.

Last month I visited Direct Rail Services, the company that is owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and which owes its success to its experience in the nuclear industry. It is a tribute to the careful attention of everyone involved that these trains have, since 1962, travelled more than 8 million miles without any incident involving the release of radioactivity. But we can never be smug - we need to maintain that vigilance.

I also attended a presentation by Network Rail managers at which they explained the current thinking about measures to improve level crossing safety. We are due to respond to them in detail but I was struck by the fact that every day our members speed past 7,674 of these potential death-traps where last year 43 people died. We might have one of the lowest death tolls in Europe at crossings - but there is still much more to be done.

Eliminating safety hazards is an endless struggle - so it angers me that a single step that could make a major difference has not been introduced: improving conditions in the driving cab. Last month's Journal reported that SPADs in July increased by 62 per cent - a fact we attribute directly to the lack of air-conditioning for drivers. It is impossible to be alert and focussed when you're struggling to breathe. That is not a debating point. It is a fact.

This month we report on negotiations with individual companies. It doesn't make encouraging reading: many firms seem to think the offer of a bottle of cold water is enough. I can tell them now - it isn't.

In view of all the other dangers we face at our work, some companies' tardy approach to cab conditions is a terrible indictment of callous penny-pinching. Properly aired, well-designed, temperately heated cabs are one way companies can make a positive, immediate contribution to our members' - and rail safety.

We no longer seek improved cabs. We demand it.

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