The general secretary of the main rail union has told MPs that talks to settle the long and bitter rail disputes cannot continue if “driver-only operation” (DOO) is on the agenda.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT, told the cross-party Transport Select Committee: “We will not accept driver-only operation in any company without a fight. We will never sign up to accepting DOO. It will never happen while I am general secretary. It will never happen as long as the RMT exists.”
The Rail Delivery Group says DOO is “already present across 45 per cent of services carrying 55 per cent of passengers, and has been running safely for almost 40 years”.
But Mr Lynch said: “We will never accept the removal of more guards from trains. We won’t accept that, and we won’t continue with any talks that has that as a pre-requisite.”
During the 200 days from 21 June 2022 to 7 January 2023, some members of his union have been on strike for 20 days. They are in disputes with Network Rail, which is a subsidiary of the Department for Transport (DfT), and more than a dozen train operators whose operations are specified by the government.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union, Aslef, said of DOO: “The train drivers who do it, hate it, feel it’s unsafe. We believe it’s inherently unsafe.
“We’ve seen sexual assaults on our railway increase by 180 per cent. We had ‘county lines’ and drugs.
“Unfortunately society hasn’t got more polite, it hasn’t got safer.
“Where there is no staff in stations, where there is nobody in booking offices, where there is nobody on trains, we do not believe it is a safe railway for the travelling public.
“We do believe you need everybody in all those positions to run a safe railway, and we will not be supporting DOO if it comes forward as part of this deal or any future deal.”
He said there was no difference between driver-only operation and driver-controlled operation where there is a second member of staff on the train.
The Office of Rail and Road investigated the practice in 2017 and concluded it “fully meets legal requirements for safe operation” – so long as “suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff” are in place.