A train driver has hit out at the ‘toxic environment’ that rail workers are facing because of the current dispute which has led to months of travel misery for commuters.
The driver, who works for Southern Rail, said that he and fellow rail workers were currently facing an angry public backlash.
People pay a huge amount for a season ticket. They just want a seat and get to work and back home again. I have total sympathy
“But we want the same as the public,” he said. “We want a safe, reliable, punctual and affordable railway.”
Commuters have spoken of their jobs, health and family life being placed at risk as they face daily train chaos following strikes and staff shortages.
But the Southern driver - who lives in Horsham but does not want to be named - said that rail staff also faced similar problems.
“This dispute is taking over my life,” he said. “Everyone I work with is utterly wound up. The environment we are working in now is so toxic that senior managers will never get trust back.”
And he described the public backlash that he and other train drivers are currently facing. “Passengers are coming up to me, massively confrontational,” he said.
“I am walking down the platform and every other person looks like they want to punch me in the face. People are that angry - and we can all appreciate it. But everywhere I go, they say ‘You are a driver, are you?’ and they go mad. But it’s a myth that it’s all down to the staff.
“People pay a huge amount for a season ticket. They just want a seat and get to work and back home again. I have total sympathy.”
He said he feared for the safety of passengers if proposals for ‘driver-only’ trains - the issue at the centre of the dispute - were brought into effect. He said drivers currently relied on conductors - “they are the eyes in the back of my head.”
He said there were countless times when guards had signalled him to wait because of passenger problems such as dropping a mobile phone onto the track and trying to retrieve it.
“What happens when we get loads of schoolkids milling around on the platform? At the moment, the guard blows his whistle and they all move away. What do you do when there’s no guard, you can’t lean out and physically shout.”
He said once a train moved away from the platform the driver could not see the platform behind him.
“My biggest fear about not having guards is the lone traveller late at night when a group of lads get on and the guard says to the traveller ‘come on, sit with me’ and he will sort it out, but if the guard isn’t there you can have 12 train carriages and the driver won’t know what’s happening until someone pushes the emergency button.”
He said that passenger numbers had been increased by 40 per cent over the past 10 years and queried: “Is this the time to remove safety-critical people off trains and just employ ticket sellers?”
The driver blames the Government’s Department for Transport for the current situation and said that Southern was ‘just the axeman.’ He said the current problems all stemmed from the McNulty Report in 2011 which recommended reductions in rail staffing levels.
Another Southern Rail train driver said staffing levels were at the core of current problems. “They don’t employ enough people to run a roster and rely on staff to work overtime to keep the service going.
“In Horsham yesterday we had five jobs cancelled. They have put on an emergency timetable and thaey can’t do it - and that’s just at one depot.
“The railway is getting ripped to pieces. Something that could be really good is being destroyed.”
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