Train drivers warn of more strikes over safety role of guards

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The Independent Online

Threats of disruption to the rail network mounted yesterday when train drivers' leaders warned of industrial action if any more train companies tried to operate without guards. Passengers are already facing two national 24-hour stoppages by the guards themselves, who are involved in fresh talks this week aimed at settling the dispute over their safety role.

The warning of strikes by drivers emerged on the eve of the publication of the official report into the 1999 Paddington disaster in which 31 people were killed.

The train drivers' union, Aslef, pointed out yesterday that there was no guard on the Thames Trains service involved in the crash.

Mick Rix, general secretary of Aslef, said it was "pure luck" that rail employees were on the Thames train and able to help passengers to safety. He said: "It is just not safe for there only to be a driver on a train. We will be in dispute if any proposals for new driver-only operations come in."

He said the union would argue that it was in the best interest of rail companies to have guards on trains because surveys had shown that the public felt safer with them on board. "The rail industry is still putting profit before passengers' safety. Driver-only operation can leave passengers abandoned and helpless in the event of a serious incident," he said.

Aslef is expected to affirm its opposition to the spread of the practice at its annual conference this week in Scarborough.

Thameslink, West Anglia, Great Northern and Gatwick Express already have driver-only operations and will therefore escape the strikes called by the RMT rail union for next Monday and 4 July ­ and any action taken by Aslef.