Train drivers warned over strike safety

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST signs that other railworkers may be drawn into the signal workers' dispute emerged yesterday when the train drivers' union Aslef emphasised that its members should not take out trains if they believe safety has been compromised.

The carefully worded statement by Aslef, issued to all 14,500 drivers on British Rail, follows concerns by several drivers over mistakes by signal operators. A spokesman said: 'Drivers are reporting signals being operated in the wrong sequence or being at red unnecessarily. When they ring the signal box, they've been given excuses like 'sorry mate, my finger slipped' or 'my cuff caught the button'.'

He added: 'We are not expecting a mass walkout or any major industrial action. We are just stressing that drivers have a right to protect themselves and passengers who they believe to be at risk from strike-breaking services.'

The statement says drivers should alert a supervisor and a union representative if they have a 'reasonable belief that they are in serious or imminent danger because of signalling irregularities'. Drivers are warned not to leave the job or refuse to carry it out without guidance from an Aslef district secretary.

Lew Adams, the union's general secretary, said: 'We will encourage our members to act responsibly and adhere to these procedures. But we cannot just carry on warning about safety hazards, being ignored, and waiting for the inevitable accident to occur.'

Aslef had consulted its solicitors over the potential use of injunctions to stop trains being taken out if there were concerns over safety but the union's legal advisers said such a move would be unlikely to succeed as the Health and Safety Executive had given Railtrack a clean bill of health and there was a risk of damages if an interim injunction was obtained but the subsequent court case were lost.

Railtrack's production director, John Ellis, said: 'There is no question of safety being compromised on any strike day. I hope every driver will take the same responsible action they take on non-strike days, which is to report any accident or irregularity.'

The Aslef statement was a response to British Rail's call made public on Thursday for volunteers with signalling experience and qualifications to offer their services to Railtrack to help keep the network running on strike days.

BR was expecting only a handful of such volunteers as few of its staff are suitably qualified and many would be unwilling to act as strikebreakers. BR has promised to keep paying the wages of any such volunteers.

Yesterday Railtrack was somewhat disdainful about the value of BR's offer. A spokesman told the Independent: 'We've not had anyone come through yet. We doubt that they will be of much help immediately since they will need training. They may be able to relieve supervisors who will then be able to operate signals.'

The next 48-hour strike by the signal workers starts at noon on Tuesday but British Rail is bullish about running even more trains than its claimed 45 per cent during Monday and Tuesday's strike.