Unions have welcomed a pledge by Labour to end the “discriminatory practice” of driver-only trains on the railways, guaranteeing there will be a second member of fully trained staff.
Labour said the second member of staff will help with boarding and other duties during the journey so that older and disabled rail passengers can travel when they want “with dignity, without booking ahead”.
The promise follows years of industrial action on the railways over the role of guards on trains, which has plunged industrial relations to a new low.
Labour said the Government’s policy of expanding driver-only operation (DOO) has denied older and disabled passengers the ability to travel spontaneously by removing the guarantee of assistance, requiring journeys to be booked 24 hours in advance.
Marsha de Cordova, shadow minister for disabled people, said: “The Tories’ expansion of driver-only operation is yet another attack on the rights of disabled passengers who have been denied the ability to travel spontaneously.
“The railway ought to be for everyone, but Government policy discriminates against and excludes passengers who require assistance boarding trains.
“Labour will guarantee a guard on board every train to guarantee turn up and go across the rail network so that older and disabled rail passengers can travel when they want independently and with dignity, without booking ahead. In addition, guards on every train will make train travel easier, safer and more secure for all passengers.”
Shadow rail minister Rachael Maskell said: “The railway should liberate people and enable everyone to play their full role in our society and economy, but the Conservative Party’s expansion of DOO has knowingly degraded the rights of older and disabled passengers in the face of protests from passenger and disabled people’s groups.
“It is remarkable that the Government and private train companies have pursued this discriminatory policy even when it provoked fierce industrial disputes resulting in significant strike action.
“Labour’s publicly owned railway will be for everyone, not just the able-bodied, which is why we will enable staff to deliver a safe and accessible railway for all.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, which is planning 27 days of strikes on South Western Railway next month over the guards’ dispute, said: “RMT guard members have been at the forefront of fighting driver-only operation and this welcome announcement reflects that their struggle has been absolutely right from the very start to warn of the dangers of DOO to safety, security and accessibility.
“Ending DOO and putting safety critical guards back on trains is a modern, transformational policy that will provide real change, especially for disabled and vulnerable passengers.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, said: “As the trade union which has fought for 30 years against the introduction of driver-only operation on Britain’s railways, we are delighted that the Labour Party’s policy is to roll back DOO and guarantee a second safety-critical member of staff on every train.
“Passengers want a guard on the trains on which they travel – to help disabled people get on and off, protect passengers and evacuate the service in an emergency – as do drivers and platform staff.
“That’s why we welcome Labour’s decision to make Britain’s railways a safer railway system.”