The New South Wales government has ruled out forcing drivers to work alone on a new fleet of intercity trains.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance on Monday confirmed the trains –travelling to the Central Coast, Newcastle, Blue Mountains and the South Coast – would each have two staff to ensure passenger safety.
That includes the driver and a guard or customer service worker.
Mr Constance made the announcement hours after meeting with rail accident victim Martin Stewart, but a spokesperson said the minister came to the decision weeks ago.
The main factor was ensuring a worker could help elderly passengers, those with a pram or disabilities safely get on and off the trains.
“When the train pulls up at a platform, they work with the drivers of the train to make sure that people are safe – not falling through the gap,” he told reporters on Monday.
Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) NSW Secretary Alex Claassens welcomed the announcement after campaigning against driver-only trains.
“We’ve been consistently concerned about that,” he said, speaking at Martin Place railway station alongside Mr Constance and Mr Stewart.
“We need to retain guards to be able to make sure our trains run on time, they run safely.”
The 512 double-decker carriages – bought from South Korea for $2.8 billion – are expected to begin service from late next year.
The trains will have improved CCTV, more spacious seating, mobile charging ports and accessible toilets.
Train workers to get pay boost
A spokesperson for Mr Constance confirmed drivers and guards could get a bigger pay packet if their duties change.
Drivers were slated to get an additional 20 per cent if the trains were driver-only, to reflect their extra responsibilities such as monitoring CCTV.
They will no longer get such a significant raise, but they are still expected to get salary increases.
The second staffer on each train – the guard or customer service worker – is also expected to get a change to their job description and a pay increase.
“No one will earn less and no one will be forced to work in the new roles. Existing guards who don’t want to do the new role can retrain as drivers or take a redundancy,” the spokesperson said, confirming there would be no forced redundancies.
There are currently 380 guards employed on the network.
Most comments on the RTBU Facebook page welcomed the announcement, but some staff expressed concerns about what the second position would entail.
Martin Stewart’s accident
Mr Stewart, who was named 2018 Blind Australian of the Year last week, was dragged beneath a Melbourne train for 200 metres in February 2002.
The train had no guard, meaning nobody could assist him or alert the driver when he fell between the train and platform.
“I fell, unseen by a guard because they were none there,” he told reporters.
Mr Stewart lost his dominant right arm and right leg in the accident. He had a five-month-old baby at the time.
He thanked Mr Constance for keeping what he calls “life guards” on the network.
“I have the knowledge of what’s happened, and what would have happened if the guards had been removed [in NSW].”
Mr Constance thanked Mr Stewart, the RTBU, drivers and guards who have expressed “very real, very serious concerns” about the canned potential for driver-only trains.