Safety row leads to action by train driver

01 July 2005

Thousands of drivers represented by ASLEF are to take action from next Monday that will disrupt train journeys across the country. They are adamant that safety levels have declined to the point where the acting General Secretary Keith Norman says his members can ‘no longer cooperate with a safety lottery’.

Keith says, ‘The government, the train operating companies, the track managers – and most significantly, the travelling public – have repeated time and time again that their main priority is rail safety. 

‘If the employer’s actions matched the company’s words, we would not be making this announcement today. Rail operators are wilfully neglecting their safety responsibilities to an extent that our members cannot condone.’

The action will consist of drivers refusing to take trains through areas covered by a contentious communications system from 0001 on 4 April ‘until the matter is resolved to the union’s satisfaction’. 

The union predicts ‘utter chaos’ as it instructs drivers not to cooperate in duties passing through Stoke and Leddburn Junction (NW coast mainline), the Dorset Coast and Horsham. This would involve at a minimum trains operated by Virgin, West Coast, Cross Country, Silverlink, Central Trains, Arriva trains Wales, Southern Trains, EWS, Freightliner and other freight operators.

The dispute follows a breakdown of talks between the union and Network Rail about the ability of drivers to alert other trains and signal operators to an accident or other problem on the track. 

The immediate problem arose when the system for alerting other parties to an incident was seen to have system failures. The union is aware of several cases, but the companies will not admit the full scale of the difficulties. In the case of an incident the union (and the public) demand that there is instant communication to all other parties to avoid a major accident. 

Discussions about achieving suitable train detection and communications systems have been going on for two years after both sides accepted a temporary trial solution – appropriately called the ‘Interim Voice Radio System’ (IVRS). 

ASLEF wrote formally to Network Rail to ask how drivers were to be speedily informed of failures in the IVRS system, and what action they were to take if they are alerted of a failure – or even what other systems would be used. 

The response - which the union received today - advised it to talk to the companies individually. Their advice was to ‘run normally’ even if there is a system failure. 

The union rejects this as completely irresponsible. ‘We will not be party to putting lives at risk,’ says the union’s acting General Secretary Keith Norman. ‘I hope the public will not only understand, but support, action aimed at saving the lives of our members and the public.’

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