Government's 'intelligent trains' plan threatens jobs and safety, claims union
The biggest rail workers' union has accused the Government of co-ordinating plans to axe thousands of jobs, including drivers, from Britain's trains.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said a Rail Capability Plan, published with the support of ministers and the industry's safety body, sets out proposals to "compromise and dilute" the current safety regime and run "autonomous" trains.
The union said the Department for Transport has launched a new innovation competition with up to £9 million to support UK businesses in developing "technological solutions" for the railway.
A document invites applications that "create high-value, low-cost railway innovations, which increase the value of rail services to passengers while driving down operational expense", said the RMT.
The document adds that "innovations in this theme need not be constrained by existing railway standards but will help deliver optimal staffing for a high-value, low-cost railway.
"Intelligent trains will reduce the reliance on complex and expensive rail infrastructure and control systems and through automation transition the role of railway staff from direct control and operation to supervision," according to the union.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "The cat is well and truly out of the bag now. The Government are working hand in glove with the private train operators and the RSSB (safety board) on a long-term plan for rail in this country that would axe thousands of jobs across the industry, hammer down on safety and run services on the cheap in the name of fatter profits - the majority of which will be shipped abroad by overseas state rail companies to subsidise their own domestic transport operations.
"The rail capability plan sounds innocuous enough but is, in fact, a blueprint for automation with the long-term objective of a faceless railway where passengers are left to fend for themselves without any human contact whatsoever.
"It is scandalous that this whole drive towards the faceless railway is being smuggled through without any serious scrutiny whatsoever.
"RMT is blowing the whistle on this disaster in the making and will continue to fight for a properly staffed and resourced railway where public safety comes before private profit."
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Our railways are run by hard-working people who are passionate about the services they operate and we have been clear we will need more people, not fewer, as we cope with rapid growth.
"Passenger numbers have more than doubled over the past 20 years, and that is why we are investing record amounts.
"We want to see our rail network brought into the 21st century and technology has a role to play in helping us deliver modernised, safe, effective and comfortable services."