Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).
The general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers slapped down the BBC’s Justin Webb over train staffing levels.
Webb had suggested that driver only operated trains have guards on board but Lynch told him plainly: “No they don’t.”
It comes after the powerful union announced that Network Rail workers will stage an extra strike in their long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Members of the RMT will walk out from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27 - on top of two 48-hour strikes next week.
During an interview on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Lynch said driver only operation was “less safe” than having guards on board.
Webb told him: “I’m about to go home on a driver operated train from Victoria. I don’t feel that it’s going to be unsafe.
“It feels - doesn’t it - unrealistic to a lot of people who go on these trains every day?”
Lynch hit back: “So the answer I was going to give you is that women and many disabled passengers have told us on countless times that they want to see a staffed train because they want greater accessibility to the railway, which is a legal requirement of the railway companies, and they feel that a staffed train is better and more safe and more welcoming than an unstaffed train.
“So we want to maintain that and we also believe that it’s safer in terms of train dispatch, in terms of trap and drag, and the protection that’s afforded to people during times of disruption.”
Lynch pointed to fatalities at the Stonehaven derailment and the train collision at Watford - and the intervention of the guard that got the emergency services there and protected passengers from follow-up incidents.
Webb replied: “But the guards are still there.”
Lynch hit back: “The guards aren’t there, they proposed to remove them.”
Webb added: “No, driver operated only trains surely have a second person on the train it’s just that they’re not operating the doors.”
Lynch replied: “No they don’t always have a second person on the train.
“Most DOO [Driver Only Operation] services don’t have anyone on the train apart from the driver.”
The union has said it will put the latest offer from Network Rail [NR] to its members, with a recommendation to reject.
Strikes on 14 train companies will go ahead next week although talks will be held with the Rail Delivery Group on Tuesday.
Lynch said it was unfortunate that the union had been “compelled to take this action due to the continuing intransigence of the employers”.
However, the TSSA union has described the latest deal as the “best we can achieve through negotiation” and called off their strikes. Their members will vote in the coming weeks on whether to accept the offer.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: “This response from the RMT to a significantly enhanced offer exposes their true priority – using the British public and Network Rail workers as pawns in a fight with the government.”
Transport secretary Mark Harper said last night: “It’s incredibly disappointing that, despite a new and improved deal offering job security and a fair pay rise, the RMT is not only continuing with upcoming industrial action but has called more strikes over Christmas.”