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Friday, 26 July 2013 00:00

Train guards are vital

In the grim world of the bean counters whose idea of efficiency actually means "on the cheap," axing guards on the London Overground is a simple administrative measure.

In the same way that fire services are being slashed, basically on the premise that fires only happen now and again, ongoing cutbacks to rail staffing are a blatant indication of the moral bankruptcy at the heart of current dominant economic thinking.

This is not just an issue that affects the capital. Anyone, anywhere, who has had to wait on a desolate station with no staff will understand the point of having them.

The same goes for anyone who has been confronted with an incident on a train with no official representative on hand to do anything about it.

The massive success of London Overground, which has reinvigorated formerly decrepit lines that in the Thatcher era were earmarked for the axe, shows exactly what investment in new stock and more frequent services, as well as the "novel" idea of employing platform staff at every station and on trains themselves, can do for our public transport networks.

Before the state stepped in to sort things out the crumbling service formerly known as Silverlink was like the Mary Celeste, both in terms of passengers and, more often that not, non-appearing trains.

Today four times as many people use this once neglected artery as did when it was saved from the knacker's yard back in 2007 - up from 2.57 million to 9.83m journeys.

Rail workers are rightly concerned about the decision to cull every guard on the network.

This is not some parochial issue about protecting union members. A big part of London Overground's success is the fact that trains have staff on them to react to situations and to make people feel safe and, heaven forbid, in the event of a serious incident to literally "guard" the travelling public.

There is a particular sick irony in the fact that the first murder on a train in Britain was on one of these lines way back in 1864. Then, 149 years ago, passengers were able to alert the guard to inform him that Thomas Briggs had been attacked.

The fact is that station and on-train staff, like firefighters, are not an optional extra.

Rather than reacting to the growth of the service by seeking to squeeze cash out of it with this penny-pinching cut, the model that has been so successful should be studied and rolled out across the country.

Too many stations outside of the biggest population centres have been left deserted in the name of bogus "cost efficiency."

In the wrong situation, this is literally a matter of life and death. How much is a human being worth?

Time for a boost

Tory boasts about wafer-thin economic "growth" of 0.6 per cent should be treated with a liberal pinch of salt.

It represents barely a dent after the biggest period of decline in generations, and does nothing to solve the problems facing millions in real-world Britain.

The bulk of the alleged success story is the services industry - much of which is otherwise known as the City of London.

This is the unreal economy.

Even more unreal, given the fact we're all being told to sit quietly and swallow cuts to our living standards, is the stockpiling of tens of billions by big British firms that could be being spent on creating jobs and true economic growth.

Any government worth its salt would be getting stuck in to force these companies to splash the cash and give the economy the fillip it needs.

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