Neither the RMT nor the government seems likely to back down in this shoot out. My advice is to focus on the guards themselves




“Oh, and while you are at it, dear chap, change the role of the guard will you. I know you have a lot of other things to sort out, London Bridge and all that, but with lots of shiny new trains coming in, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

With words like these, the Department for Transport made Driver Only Operation (DOO) a franchise obligation for Govia Thameslink Railway and lit the fuse which set off the conflagration on Southern Railway.

Who is going to back down?

If trains are equipped for DOO, meaning, mainly, that the driver can shut the doors, then the guards can do something else. Whatever their new role is, it will not be safety critical and trains can run without it.
Hey presto, the RMT’s industrial muscle evaporates. An RMT strike could no longer bring a network to a halt.

Not surprisingly, the RMT objects.

DfT however is determined to force through DOO and has included it in all recent franchises.

The Northern and TransPennine Express franchises require DOO in some ways.

The South West ITT issued just last month requires new trains to be fitted for DOO.

In Scotland, the new trains on order for Edinburgh – Glasgow are to be equipped only, repeat, only for DOO.

It is hard to see the DfT backing down. Getting rid of an outmoded practice which has the ability through strike action to bring a network to a halt is a high priority in Whitehall.

Chris Grayling, the new secretary of state for transport, says sorting the dispute is his top issue. Not easy. My advice: focus on the individuals, the guards themselves. They are not immune to reason or public opinion.

Reason matters.

In Scotland, the argument is clear cut and the RMT will lose. Though it has announced more strike days against ScotRail, they will find it tough to make headway against a TOC with a good reputation backed by a strong government.

At Southern, the issue is muddied by other punctuality problems. But if Grayling holds to a tough line, it should be possible quietly to promise enough jam to the guards to weaken resistance and win peace without losing the main point of DOO.


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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