Councillors opposed to driver-only trains in Northumberland

A Northern Rail train.
A Northern Rail train.

A motion against the introduction of driver-only-operation train services in Northumberland was backed by a majority of county councillors last week.

Labour leader, Coun Grant Davey’s motion was amended by Lib Dem leader Jeff Reid, but retained its goal of expressing support for a second member of staff on trains in the region.

It was approved by 31 votes to 26 with two abstentions at last Wednesday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council.

Coun Davey said that guards and conductors on trains have ‘a major list of competencies’ and their removal ‘damages people’s use of the trains’, particularly in an area where only about half of the stations are manned.

He added that the motion was partially motivated by the desire for a decent rail service in Northumberland, which currently is affected by the industrial action of the RMT union.

“I personally support that industrial action because no one seems to be moving anywhere to do anything to try to end the actual problem,” he said. “Our motion asks this council to get involved to write to and talk to the people involved in railways and try to get guards and conductors retained on trains.”

But Coun Richard Wearmouth said that he had contacted Northern Rail after seeing this motion, as his understanding was that there weren’t going to be driver-only trains in Northumberland, and the response stated that ‘Rail North and the DfT (Department for Transport) have now supported having a second person on every train to look after customer needs’.

He added: “If you were standing on Morpeth station and talking to people using our fantastic gateway to our town and county, you would find the number-one thing they are irritated about at the moment is the strikes by the RMT and that needs to stop.

“The reason that you want this motion in place is the lack of someone else on the train to provide all of the things that you mention in the motion and yet it looks very much to me that that’s going to happen.”

Labour’s Coun Tom Wilson, who is registered disabled, said: “It’s a disgrace if you get rid of these guards and help, simple as that.”

But Coun David Bawn, a Conservative, questioned why the motion was proceeding, given that everyone agreed that there should be a second person on trains, but that the latest information stated that this would be the case anyway.

Coun Reid’s amendment added a line about this applying to future franchises as well, but also called for progress to be reported at every council meeting until a majority votes not to receive more updates.

Explaining his reasons, he said: “There are always worthy motions on these agendas and we never see the outcome of any of them.

“We are proud of the council we work for, we are proud of the people we represent and all I want is the actions taken from these motions to be received back here so we can comment and we can see who’s actually responded to these letters.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service