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Thursday, January 19th, 2017

A Question for every Rail Traveller

rail trackThe disruption on train services caused by the row over who shuts the doors has been going on since early December. It is easy to feel isolated from it here in the Midlands, but we should not be. It could affect us in the end.

Everyone has their chance to express their opinion on the issue at stake except the people who really matter, the ordinary rail traveller. All of us who use trains, even those far from the current strike zone using stations in Solihull, ought to ask themselves the question, form a view and have their voice heard.

Ostensibly the argument is about who closes the doors. Actually, who cares. The case that drivers closing doors is safe is long proven. Drivers close doors on London Underground, on Midland Metro and on buses with three sets of doors. It is perfectly safe.

At its heart, though, as this article makes clear, the dispute seems to be more about one man train operation. The closing the doors thing is a facet of ‘Driver Only Operation’ (DOO), but the Union and the train company claim that means different things. The Union claim it means ‘one man, driver only, trains’. The train company says ‘no staff will be lost’.

Neither, as far as we can tell, have asked the travelling public what we want of staffing on our trains. If I was asked I would say that:

  • I do not care at all who presses a button to close the doors;
  • I am always happy to travel on a London Underground, driver only, one man, train, which pulls into a next, highly manned station every couple of minutes;
  • I might be OK with travelling on a Snow Hill to Dorridge train that stops at Tyseley, Acocks Green, Olton, Solihull and Widney Manor, if all of those stations were suitably manned and a driver could radio ahead in a ‘communications cord’ situation;
  • I would never wish to travel the 20 miles across the open, station free, countryside between Leamington and Banbury on a train without a second member of staff who could respond to a situation before the driver got the train stopped and did what he needed to before leaving the cab;

but, no-one has asked.

The public is fed up with both sides in this argument and significant numbers  are finding alternative travel routes that some, maybe many, will stick with after the dust has settled.

Herein lies a lesson, in my view, for service providers in general. If you are going to drive for change, get public opinion on your side and put what the customer wants from the service at the heart of the thinking. Ask us and listen to what we say.