Rail staff warn of safety risks from station job cuts

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PASSENGERS faced increased dangers from attack and the results of vandalism as staff were removed from more than 300 railway stations in the past year, rail unions said yesterday.

There was also a greater risk of accidents as two-thirds of BR's 2,556 stations became unstaffed for all or part of the day. Union leaders said the reductions were going ahead even though BR admitted that some stations could be dangerous at night.

Reports from local passenger watchdogs were said to reveal a 20 per cent increase in unstaffed stations. Further reductions were forecast before rail privatisation.

Richard Rosser, general secretary of TSSA, the white collar rail union, predicted a declining service and a likely threat to safety. 'There will be more accidents from objects thrown on to the line and having fewer or no staff on stations will make it easier for vandals to cause terrible accidents.

'Railway stations up and down the country will be treated like bus stops, and that's not what people want.'

Protests over the removal of station staff have been a consistent theme of regional transport committees, which are concerned that many women are being deterred from using public transport.

Rufus Barnes, secretary of the London Regional Passengers' Committee, said the number of unstaffed stations had risen in the capital from 154 to 177 since 1 January. 'There has been a rush to remove staff . . . caused by the financial state that BR finds itself in,' he said. The committee believes that every station within the urban area should be staffed at all times when trains are running.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), said the removal of staff could threaten safety. He claimed that a letter from Jim Morgan, a sector manager for Network SouthEast, showed that BR saw stations as dangerous but still wanted to remove platform staff.

Writing in response to complaints about Ashford station, Surrey, Mr Morgan told David Wilshire, MP for Spelthorne, that many of the problems had been caused by vandalism. 'We are finding it almost impossible to recruit staff at this station. In off peak times it is not busy. During the evening, after the peak period, the duties can be dangerous.'

Mr Knapp said the union rejected the BR response of anti- vandal shelters and the removal of staff. 'If it is dangerous for the staff, what is it likely to be for women and disabled passengers travelling alone,' he said.

Network SouthEast maintained that the letter, written on 14 August, had been superseded by a review of policy. All staff reductions had been blocked until completion of the review.

Internal BR documents were said to show that just 88 mainline stations would remain fully staffed after privatisation, compared with more than 800 at the moment. Such a reduction would mean 2,600 job losses.

The unions are mounting a campaign against privatisation. Mr Knapp said passengers indicated that they saw need for more staff, not fewer.

Tory MPs with commuter populations are to be the target of the union's efforts to produce a public 'revolt' against privatisation.