The Welsh Government has agreed to have a ‘safety critical conductor (guard)’ on all services operated through the new Wales and Borders franchise to avoid the kind of driver-only operation (DOO) dispute that has led to industrial action on several other routes.
In a statement on 29 September, First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones said there would be ‘more staff not less employed on the franchise’ and that technology would be introduced to ‘complement staff and not replace them’.
The announcement follows discussions with the Wales TUC trade union body.
In driver-only operation (DOO), the train driver is solely responsible for the movement of the train and the opening and closing of the doors. While the trade unions believe DOO poses a safety risk to passengers, operators have stood by the practice – a position that has been supported by the ORR and RSSB.
On 28 September, the Welsh Government issued an invitation to submit final tenders to Abellio Rail Cymru, Arriva Rail Wales, KeolisAmey and MTR Corporation (Cymru) Ltd for the new franchise, which will start in October next year.
As well as operating services, the new franchisee will be responsible for maintaining the route. However, the Welsh Government has said that Network Rail will retain the infrastructure outside of the Core Valley lines, which will transfer to Transport for Wales (TFW).
Carwyn Jones said, ‘Our hard working railway staff are a major asset in delivering a modern and safe railway and it is right that they are central to our ambitious plans for the new Wales & Border Services and South Wales Metro.
‘I am therefore delighted that we have been able to have such positive and constructive discussions with the railway trade unions, something I have been keen to ensure from the offset.
‘These are progressive commitments that will mean a better service for passengers and a better railway in Wales and I look forward to this positive dialogue continuing as we develop our plans.’