Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Howard Robert Hoare (CHT 02)

RAIL FREIGHT AND THE CHANNEL TUNNEL THE TRAIN DRIVERS PERSPECTIVE

  I welcome the opportunity to be able to put my thoughts before the Committee. I have laid them out in numbered paragraphs in no particular order of importance.

  Before writing this report I sought the opinions of my colleagues and they all gave me their support.

  1.  I am a train driver at Dollands Moor. I am employed by English Welsh and Scottish International Railway (EWS Int.) I am also one of the drivers local representatives and Trade Union Official (ASLEF) Branch Secretary. I started work as trainee train driver in 1974, and I have been driving freight trains through the channel tunnel since 1996.

  2.  I have grave concerns about the deteriorating conditions that I have to work under whilst carrying out my duties in the Frethun freight yard, in Calais. The asylum seekers roam around the yard day and night without any apparent fear for their safety walking in front and alongside moving trains.

  3.  There have been recorded instants where asylum seekers have stood in the path of a train as it has left the yard causing the driver to make an emergency brake application, when the train stopped it was "swarmed" by asylum seekers who had climbed over the fence.

  4.  My members are concerned that as the asylum seekers become more desperate they will resort to further extreme measures, maybe trying to force entry into the cab of the locomotive. Although we keep all locomotive doors locked, there are times when we have to walk around the outside of the loco. (Two locos coupled together, examine loco. for faults etc) in the yard surrounded by these people. A driver has been offered a "stack" of dollars to take him and his colleagues to England. Another driver has found asylum seekers sitting on the buffers between a pair of locomotives.

  5.  I have recently been in a position of some apprehension. It was 02.00 in the morning I was waiting on my locomotive for the train I was to work to England to be made ready. I was waiting on a line which runs adjacent to the much photographed and filmed inadequate fence. Asylum seekers were climbing over the fence, sitting on top of the fence, standing around in large groups, waiting for an opportunity to board my train after the loco had been coupled. I had to wait for approximately two hours, with all this activity around me becoming increasingly paranoid as to whether every unusual noise was someone trying to enter the loco cab.

  6.  In October 1997 I was the driver of a train that knocked down and killed two young men on a foot crossing. It was 05.25 on a foggy Saturday morning. I know what it's like to be involved in a fatality, every day when we are driving trains in France we are faced with this scene as a real possibility. If this were to happen we would find ourselves in a country where we don't speak the language or have any idea of the legal consequences. It's this and many other problems of driving trains in France in the current climate that's making my job increasingly stressful.

  7.  We have recently had an Occupational Health Nurse visit Dollands Moor Depot, her time was limited and she only managed to see a few people. One of these drivers has been removed from train driving duties in France until he has received adequate counselling. Two more are to be reviewed in one month's time.

  8.  If our experiences were to be repeated anywhere else on the BR/Railtrack network drivers would refuse to work under such conditions. I think one of the reasons we persevere, is because we do not wish to jeopardize further the dire financial position EWS Int. is in by refusing to work the few trains that are left running.

  9.  We are aware that EWS management at all levels has been very supportive in maintaining jobs at Dollands Moor. I wish I could say the same about the British Government. They do not appear to have shown any interest in our plight, we feel very isolated at Dollands Moor and can only hope the Government give these problems the importance they deserve.

May 2002


 
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