Keep Guards on Trains

It wasn’t a huge protest, perhaps with only around 20 people involved, but I was pleased to be there and to be able to photograph it, because I think it raises issues that are important, not just for the disabled people who were protesting, but as an indicator of the values that are important to those in charge of our society.

A UN Committee reported last year that the UK government the government has “failed to recognise living independently and being included in the community as a human right” and its Chair described this as a “human catastrophe”.

Of course there is much more to it than travel, and in particular the committee had earlier  condemned the disproportionate effect of government cuts in health and social security budgets on the disabled, and also the effect of benefit sanctions and the lack of proper education provision.  The government – and in particular Iain Duncan Smith, in charge of the DWP from 2010-2016 – picked on the disabled thinking they would be an easy target, unable to protest and fight back, but protests like this, organised by DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) have proved them wrong.

Perhaps the governments orders to the train companies to get rid of the guards on trains are at least in some small part a reaction to protests such as this, but more likely they reflect a more general disregard for the travelling public in general and the disabled in particular.

Unstaffed stations have long made it difficult or impossible for disabled people to board or leave trains,  and they need to book journeys well in advance to get assistance to do so. And while staff on the platforms generally do their best, the companies don’t always manage to ensure the required help is available despite their duty under the Equalities Act.

Several who spoke at the event told horror stories about their travels, but the protest was prompted by the latest orders given to staff by rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway (which runs trains, though not as often as it should), on all Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express routes that they should leave wheelchair users (it de-humanises them as  ‘PRM’s) on the platform, even when they have arranged and pre-booked a journey, if to allow them to board would hold up the train. They should also be taken beyond their intended stop rather than cause the train to run late.

The new instructions also come with a new timetable which has cut in half the time allowed for most station stops, making it almost impossible to stop long enough to get a wheelchair on board except in the unusual circumstance of a train running early.

It would be simple for the rail companies, including GTR,  to provide the service they are required to provide accessible transport under the Equalties Act on trains with a guard, simply by ensuring all trains carry a lightweight portable ramp, at hand ready to use.  A longer-term solution would ensure that all new trains would be fitted with the kind of retractable access ramps now fitted to London’s buses.

The protest was supported by the RMT, who are campaigning to keep guards on trains for safety reasons, not just for disabled people but for the rest of us as well. As a frequent rail passenger its a campaign I fully support.

DPAC protest GTR rail discrimination


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