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  • Writer's pictureNOR4NOR

An Open Letter from Greater Anglia Guards

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am sure you are aware of the industrial action currently being undertaken by conductors at Greater Anglia with regards to the future role of the conductor.

We would like to apologise for any disruption that has been caused to passengers whilst this action is taking place, however we would like to explain why we are undertaking this action. The action we are undertaking is not pay related or political but is to do with the safe dispatch of trains and making sure that a second safety critical person (a conductor) remains on the train. Our union representatives have been consulting with the company for some time now but discussions are currently deadlocked as Greater Anglia is refusing to move from it’s position.

To put things into perspective, currently all regional, rural and intercity trains run by Greater Anglia must have a conductor on board the train. The conductor is there to help passengers on board the train with any issues, revenue duties and also for safety reasons, such as dispatching the train and helping to deal with any emergency incident. 

As you will be aware, Greater Anglia is investing in a brand new fleet of trains, which we welcome and is much needed for the region. However, as part of this they are also wanting to modify the role of the conductor. This includes removing responsibility for dispatching the train, and refusing to guarantee a second person on board the train, as is now.

Greater Anglia also now want to introduce a list of “exceptional circumstances” where the train will be able to run without a conductor being on board. This will apply to all routes where a conductor is currently guaranteed to be on the train. This list is by no means exceptional, and we believe it will be used by the company to renege on it’s commitments to customers.

These are the exceptional circumstances Greater Anglia want to use to run the train without a conductor:

Trains should continue to operate without a conductor in the following circumstances: 

1. Conductor taken ill during shift or otherwise unable to work the train / diagram. This would mean no replacement would be provided. Currently standby and spare conductors are provided across the company for such situations. As the company would be no longer obliged to provide a replacement conductor, the company would no longer have to fill the standby or spare jobs. 

2. Service Recovery - Conductor could be stepped up en-route to restore them to later workings. During delays, it is vital that our customers are kept up to date. Removing us from the trains at times of delay will mean less customer service is offered at a time when more should be provided.

3. Emergency situation where Conductor could remain assisting customer (such as waiting for ambulance to arrive). Delays due to a person being taken ill are common, but we think it to be grossly unfair to evict passengers from the train when they are taken ill simply to prevent delays. When you consider that most rural stations are isolated, unstaffed and with little shelter, removing someone from a train could only make the situation worse.

4. Misreading of diagram / Conductor error. We are not aware of any substantial delays caused by conductor error. 

5. Conductor taken ill or otherwise unable to work prior to taking duty after publication of daily sheets. The daily sheets are published at 12 noon the day before. Greater Anglia could therefore have up to 30 hours notice of sickness and would be under no obligation to find a replacement conductor.

We believe that these exceptional circumstances are loosely worded and will be used on a daily basis by the company to save money by not providing a conductor on board. You may have seen the press statements stating that Greater Anglia want us to spend more time time with customers. We believe these plans will actually lead us to spending less time with customers, as trains will be able to run without a conductor on board.

In 2016, of the circa 190,000 trains that Greater Anglia ran with a conductor, only 20 were cancelled or due to having no conductor. That is less than 0.01%. We are therefore at a loss as to why Greater Anglia is pursing this option, given that the current delay to services by a lack of a conductor is minimal. We believe that you, the customers, value the importance of having a conductor on board, and as the impact of cancellations from conductor shortages is almost non-existent, the company should be able to guarantee having a conductor on board.

We would also like to draw your attention to other rail franchises where a second person has been guaranteed to be on board the train.

- Scotrail (an Abellio franchise, regulated by the Scottish Government)

- West Midlands Trains (an Abellio franchise, started December 2017 in consultation with the West Midlands local authority)

- The new Welsh franchise (Abellio are bidding for this franchise, will be regulated by the Welsh Assembly)

As you can see, Abellio currently has two franchises, and are bidding for a third where a second person will be on board all the time. We are therefore at a loss as to why Greater Anglia (an Abellio company) is unwilling to offer this here. This may be down to the influence of the various governments and local authorities in those areas, but we would argue that if it can be done in these areas, why can it not be done here in East Anglia. It should also be pointed out that there is no mention of modifying or removing conductors in the Greater Anglia franchise bid. Greater Anglia are undertaking these changes of their own free will, and we are at a loss as to why they wish to do so. 

We get lots of feedback from customers about the great service we offer. We were the first department in the company to receive one hundred 100% mystery shopper surveys, and we have won numerous awards from the company and nationally for the great service we offer you, our customers, on board the train. The importance of having a conductor on board has also been highlighted by several recent safety incidents.

We were the first department in the company to receive one hundred 100% mystery shopper surveys

In April 2016, when a train hit a tractor near Thetford, the conductor was vital in calling the emergency services, helping those injured on board the train and evacuating the train safely. In October 2017, when a train hit a car at Melton level crossing, the conductor helped calm the shocked driver and evacuated the passengers safely from the train. Also in October 2017, when a train hit a tree near Beccles, and the train was stranded for over an hour, the conductor kept the passengers calm and updated whilst the driver liaised with a fleet technician to try and rectify the damage to the train. These incidents highlight the importance of retaining a conductor on board the train.

We want to be able to continue providing the great customer service on board that you currently have when travelling by train. If you agree with us, we would urge you to make your voice heard by contacting the company, your local government and your MPs. As you can see from the above mentioned franchises, it is possible to guarantee having a second person on board every train that has one now. Currently Greater Anglia’s plans for conductors do not include this guarantee, so it is vital that if you agree with the importance of having a conductor on board the train, you make your views known. 

Thank you for reading this, and for any support you are able to give,


This open letter was passed on to the NOR4NOR campaign in January 2018. We wholeheartedly support the industrial action being taken by Guards, believing it to be a justified, moral action.

Photo: Hugh Llewelyn / Flickr Creative Commons

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