After an incident on the evening of Friday 20th October, when a passenger fell down between the train and the platform the company made the following statement reported in the Croydon Advertiser on 02 November:

“We assign an OBS to every train where we previously had a conductor and they are all trained to act quickly and appropriately in situations such as this – all OBSs would have acted in the same way.

“Furthermore, trains at East Croydon are dispatched by platform staff, who would have checked the length of the platform before telling the driver it was safe to leave.”

When the role was first introduced the OBS did not activate a key in the door dispatch panel when the train was near a station. Then the role was revised so that they could activate the door panel on the approach to the station to make announcements but it had to be the panel on the “off side” of the train so as to avoid confusion. Finally, with the realisation that there was no procedure in place to facilitate disabled access, we ended up with the present responsibilities for the role in that the OBS will activate the key on a near side panel and check the platform for customers who require assistance to board. The OBS play no part in the  train dispatch procedure and have not been trained to perform such a role and as a result of having no dispatch responsibilities an OBS cannot guarantee to get to a door panel and activate a key before the driver closes the doors and dispatches the train.

This makes the company statement “they are trained to act quickly and appropriately in situations such as this – all OBS would have acted the same” seriously misleading and leaves OBS (and conductors carrying out OBS duties) at risk of being held legally responsible, with the potential for receiving a custodial sentence, should a customer suffer death or injury due to a platform dispatch incident.

In making such a statement GTR have put OBS and conductors covering OBS duties in an impossible position. GTR have shown that their intention is that should a serious incident happen during the train dispatch process that the company will claim that the OBS are trained to deal with, and are expected to deal with, such situations. This means that every OBS or conductor carrying out the role, tonight, tomorrow and every day from now are at risk. If they are unfortunate enough to be involved in such an incident the company are going to claim, “they are trained to act quickly and appropriately in situations such as this”, and it will be the member of staff who will face court proceedings.

As a matter of absolute urgency we need the RMT to demand:

Clarity from GTR and the ORR with regard to the reasonability of the OBS during the dispatch process. 

Clarity from GTR and the ORR with regard to the training OBS have received to “act quickly and appropriately in situations such as this”.

It is essential that frontline staff have a clear understanding regarding their role and responsibilities so it’s to be hoped that the RMT will demand IMMEDIATE action on these points as they could have life changing implications for any OBS/conductor unfortunate enough to be involved in a dispatch incident.