Concern over ‘unsafe’ electrical control room hits maintenance work
RMT: March 20 2008
MAINTENANCE AND contract work on overhead power lines along the East Coast and branch lines was cancelled last night after key engineering staff in four Network Rail depots refused to issue work licences on safety grounds.
Workers at Morpeth, Leeds, Doncaster and Hitchen depots invoked 'Worksafe' procedures and sought alternative duties after learning that managers supposedly doing the work of highly skilled staff on strike from the York electrical control room had had as little as six days' training.
RMT members at the York ECR started a five-day strike last night over Network Rail's unsafe plans to slash the number of operators there by a third.
Work scheduled to take place at Heaton depot today was also cancelled after the necessary licences were not issued.
The union has today warned that any attempt to discipline the workers concerned would result in a ballot for strike action among all overhead-line staff.
"I understand that our members were not satisfied that the York electrical control room was being operated safely and invoked the company's own procedures to ensure that they were not placed in danger," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
"It takes years to train an electrical control room operator, and the idea that managers with six days' training could safely handle the 25,000-volt current has understandably left our members who work on the overhead lines feeling that their safety is being compromised.
"We have already asked the Railways Inspectorate to investigate Network Rail's contingency plans for the five days of the strike, because we believe that they are putting rail workers and passengers at unacceptable risk of electrocution.
"Today I have written urgently to the inspectorate again, because I understand that none of the managers working the control room has current certification, and that none of the six days' training they received was on live equipment.
"RMT has also made it clear that any attempt by Network Rail to discipline members for taking the entirely correct steps to protect their own and their colleagues' safety will result in a strike ballot of all overhead line staff," Bob Crow said.
Notes to editors: Network Rail plans to reduce the complement of operators at the York ECR by a third, from 18 to 12, despite the existence of serious unresolved safety issues.
RMT believes the proposals are budget-led, badly thought out and potentially leave members dangerously exposed in the event of an incident.
RMT's ten members in the control room voted unanimously for action and began five days of strike action at 18:59 on March 19. It will end at 06:59 on Monday March 24.