Commuter rail guards plan is quietly dropped

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The Independent Online
A railway company's scheme to employ regular passengers as guards on its trains has been quietly dropped.

Although Great Eastern Railways officially insists it is keeping open the option of training regular passengers to look after safety, it has assured unions the plan will not go ahead.

Instead it will now recruit part-time guards from a flood of new applicants alerted by the public controversy. The plan to employ commuters on the busy routes between London and East Anglia - offering pounds 5.25 an hour and free travel as incentives - caused a major row when revealed last month.

As well as travelling to their normal jobs, the new guards would have been responsible for safety, checking that doors were shut, signalling the driver to depart, and making announcements at stations. They would have been required to wear the company's blue uniform, complete with peaked cap and logo.

The plan was condemned as a "safety nightmare" and "bizarre" by trade unions, while the Health and Safety Executive said the company would have to satisfy it that the new staff would meet safety levels.

The company said the commuters' training would be as rigorous as that of any other part-time guard. However, it is understood there were disagreements at senior level within management over the acceptability of such a scheme.

Yesterday a spokesman for Great Eastern insisted it was "keeping the option" of commuter guards open, and would use them if necessary. However, more than 800 people had rung to express interest in the posts, including some unemployed.

He said: "It is cheaper for us to use part-time guards rather than commuters and it's also better to give work to people who have no work than those who already do." Great Eastern had only suggested using commuters because of a shortage of applicants, he added.