In a strongly worded letter sent to Colchester Council, Great Anglia’s Managing Director Jamie Burles, clearly sets out the railway operator’s position.
At a meeting of full council at the beginning of November, Colchester Labour Party brought forward a controversial motion in support of the RMT’s series of planned strikes affecting Colchester commuters.
This led to accusations that the Labour party were raising matters at council which were not under the jurisdiction of the authority and were therefore wasting council time.
Colchester Liberal Democrats also supported the motion in support of their coalition partners.
In their letter dated 24th November, they set out their belief that councillors were “under a misapprehension” as to what was being proposed by the company going forward, with a view to the role of conductors and driver-only operated trains.
In the letter they ask for the following facts to be taken into consideration;
“We are retaining Conductors on all routes where all services currently operate with a conductor (that includes the Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester to London intercity services, the Colchester to Clacton and Manningtree to Harwich branch lines, plus the other diesel-operated regional routes across Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and North Essex, i.e. Marks Tey to Sudbury) for the duration of our franchise to 2025, on all trains.
We have not at any point suggested doing otherwise and we have made that commitment in writing to every Conductor.
There will be no Conductor redundancies and no erosion of their pay or their terms and conditions.
Conductors will continue to be safety-trained and subject to competency assessment, medicals, etc.”
The letter from Greater Anglia goes on to explain their vision for the network in future years after the much anticipated introduction of new rolling stock;
“With the introduction of a complete fleet of new trains on our services in 2019/2020, it is proposed that conductors’ roles will remain unchanged, other than that drivers would undertake the task of opening and closing train doors (a role they already undertake on many of our services).
This approach frees up conductors to spend more time on the part of their role that our customers most value – providing information, help and assistance. At the moment conductors have to break off from assisting passengers to go and operate the doors at each station.
Passing that role to drivers should also improve punctuality and safety. If conductors still retain the role of closing the doors, none of those customer service, performance or safety benefits are achieved.
We wish to see the customer service and performance benefits that would result from our planned approach. This approach was also being pursued by Abellio in Scotland, but ultimately the Scottish government, as franchise commissioning authority, asked Abellio to apply a different approach for Scotrail.”
David Ling, secretary of the Colchester branch of the RMT union, told councillors how driver-only trains could affect public safety.
Mr Ling was quoted as saying: “It will be a dilution of the guard’s safety role, whose duties include safely dispatching trains, security checks, knowing how to evacuate and helping disabled passengers.”
“This will mean companies will run as many trains as they like without a guard on them. It’s a slippery slope to full driver-only.”