Do you catch the train to work? What about your students? Are you among the increasing number of people who complete some 30 million train trips a month in the Sydney metropolitan region alone? Or are you one of the many passengers who take longer trips in regional NSW? If so, there is a group of people you need more than you may know: train guards.
They’re the ones who keep us safe on the trains while we’re looking the other way – or at our smartphones. They assess safety as a train arrives at a station and before it leaves. They open and close the doors and keep an eye out for anyone rushing to jump on at the last second. They assist people with disabilities. They deal with and deter antisocial behaviour. They’re trained in emergency first aid so they can respond to accidents before paramedics arrive. They coordinate evacuations in the event of an emergency. They’re the reason you (and your students) make it to school safely. And on time.
But what you might not know is that while you’ve been sleeping, the NSW Government has slipped a brand new train onto the tracks. Designed and manufactured in South Korea, this new train, several of which will eventually comprise the New Intercity Fleet, is set to run from Newcastle, Mount Victoria, Gosford, Lithgow and Wollongong to Sydney Central. The NSW Government claims these trains offer next-level engineering and the last word in passenger comfort. But there’s one thing they don’t offer: train guards.
Safety on the slide
This is a betrayal, says Rail Tram and Bus Union NSW Secretary Alex Claassens. “In 2018, Transport Minister Andrew Constance made a public commitment that the guard would be retained on the New Intercity Fleet, ensuring the safety of commuters and employees,” Claassens says. But then came the 2019 state election and the sands shifted. “Transport for NSW is now attempting to replace guards with a new position, the ‘Customer Service Guard’, that functions at a lower classification and substantially lower pay, reflecting a big reduction in safety responsibilities.”
But that’s not the only issue. On the new trains, the guards will no longer be in charge of the doors, the driver will. The ‘Customer Service Guard’ will be confined to the driver’s cabin at the rear of the train. And since a design flaw means the driver’s cabin doors lock automatically at the same time as the passenger doors, there is no final opportunity for the guard to stand at the door to assess the platform for slip, trip and fall risks as the train departs.
Claassens says that throughout his own lengthy career as a train driver (he maintains his qualifications to this day), he has seen guards avert disaster when skylarking schoolboys have wedged a foot in the door; when a school student’s backpack was accidentally caught in the doors (while the student was wearing it) and when the straps of a woman’s handbag were snagged on something as she alighted from the train. Guards have also stepped in to prevent small children being separated from parents.
On the new trains, the driver’s cabin (at each end of the train) will be equipped with CCTV screens so the driver and ‘Customer Service Guard' can monitor the doors. But let’s do some maths. “On a 10-car train, there are two doors on every carriage, and there will be two cameras on every door,” Claassens says. “So that’s 40 images the driver has to look at prior to closing the doors and making sure they’re closed safely.” Imagine a driver trying to monitor these images while navigating thick fog in the Blue Mountains.
Not only that, the CCTV screens have no audio capabilities, so neither driver nor guard can hear cries for help. “CCTV does nothing to stop anything happening,” Claassens says. “It may be useful in a court case, but it does nothing to prevent anything happening.” Still feeling safe?