The difficulties of defending the railway

I have been on TV and radio on the story of the SWT ticket office clerk, Ian Faletto, who reportedly went on the tracks to remove a supermarket trolley at Lymington Town station and has found himself sacked for breaches of health and safety rules. Predictably, this has attracted massive publicity in the tabloids as an ‘elf and safety’ gone made story.

It is tempting to take that line. Faletto has, apparently, a strong local following and is known for spending his own money on planting bulbs in the station gardens and for being a well-known character. Indeed, his appeal rests on the wider one of the old railway, the Titfield Thunderbolt view of the railways or as I put it in Fire & Steam, the Agatha Christie Railway where Miss Marple turns up at some tiny station to be welcomed by the station master who promptly drives her to the local mansion in his horse and cart.

Partly for the same reasons of nostalgia, instinctively I want to be on Faletto’s side. I, too, want the railway to be part of the community and not some faceless corporation run by jobsworths. In the old more practical and less rule driven days of  BR, every employee would be trained to go on the tracks anyway,  although, as the proud owner of a PTS certificate (though expired) I can say that the training required is pretty minimal. Moreover, I have always thought there is something of an obsession about stopping people getting on the tracks in this country when, in Europe, where railways are generally not fenced and there are far more barrow crossings in stations, the attitude towards crossing the tracks is much more relaxed.

However, following my hard journalistic nose suggests. as I said on Breakfast TV, that there is more to this than meets the eye. It is impossible to go into details of the case, but even when reading the reports I did immediately that the issue is more complicated than simply nasty operator sacking perfect employee. Indeed, why would the company do so? SWT are generally not a company that seeks confrontation with its employees, as witness its retention of guards on many trains that do not need them. Therefore this is not just a simple ‘elf and safety gone mad’ line but as ever the press has not let the facts get in the way of the story. The press even called Faletto the station master when, in fact, he is a ticket office clerk. There are definitely, too, inconsistencies in the story as reported. Apparently the power was not turned off before he went on the tracks but why did he not make sure this was the case; there are doubts, too,  about the precise nature of the object on the tracks and the risk it posed; and since the speed limit is 20mph, a shopping trolley would be very unlikely to cause a derailment; and there is no question  of him losing his pension rights.

On the other hand,I looked up the figures and in 1949 more than 200 employees died on Britain’s railways, while in recent years half a dozen would be seen as a very bad year. If Faletto’s actions really were as straightforward as suggested, then undoubtedly he will get his job back or receive massive compensation from an industrial tribunal.  If SWT is canny, they will reinstate him whatever his misdoings with a big clip round the ear, and I suspect, wearing my Mystic Wolmar hat, that this is what will happen. As Dave Holladay has written in the thread about rail companies bad PR, the company has been a bit heavy handed, possibly out of fear of setting a precedent. If Faletto’s actions prove to be not that serious, a dignified retreat would be sensible as this story has proved to be another opportunity for the media to knock the railways.

  • Andrew Bowden

    There is an obsession beyond paranoia with people not going on the tracks, yet when I was in Switzerland a few years ago I stood at a station in Wilderswill where the platform itself actually had tracks on it – it was a raised platform as you’d expect, and there were tracks in front of it – and on top of it.  A train actually came in using these tracks whilst we were there.  Everyone just moved back and let it on its way. 

  • D E Martin

     While nearby stations, such as Wengen, don’t have a raised platform and passengers cross two or three tracks when getting on and off trains.

    Incidentally, I’m a little surprised that a respected commentator like Mr Wolmar draws such a simple comparison between 1949 conditions and those applying now.  In 1949 the railways system and the numbers employed were much larger.  I suspect a lot of casualties were in the goods yards of the time, while safety standards generally were unfortunately much lower.

  • Martin Davis

    I live locally and have known for years that Ian has been very unpopular with the SWT Management despite his renowned dedication and comittment. You are right to suspect that there is more to this than meets the eye. This is an excuse to get rid of somebody whose absolute dedication to his work shows up other SWT employees as lazy jobsworths.

  • Percy

    I listened as people called into R2 Jeremy Vine about this yesterday and everyone was on about Health & Safety this Health & Safety that whereas the problem is that the railway is fragmented and no longer an integrated and unified structure, platform staff arent allowed off the platform anymore, they are retail and dont receive the necessary operational training to deal with an operating incident like this, its not in their remit. In the good old days of yore you would have received training on not just how to walk on and about  the railway tracks safely but also how to contact the signal box to report the obstruction and also the electrical control room to request an emergency isolation if needed also you’d probably have been shown how to use a short circuit bar to protect your arse just incase someone in control doesnt throw the big switch or has a tempoaray mental aboration and decides to turn it back on. Now all that is history, if the points outside your local station fail the station staff no longer put on high visibilty jackets and operate them manually, they ring Network Rail and the train sits outside the station until a man in a van arrives often from a location some distance along a congested highway while we all wait and  watch and wait and watch. Working your way up the ladder on the railway learning the job, gathering greater operational knowledge, experience and responsibilty the higher you go up in the grades at the same time as you gain retail and customer service knowledge / experience, those days where the work environment produced holistic railwaymen with a 360 knowledge and understanding of operating, retail & customer service disciplines has gone for now at least.

  • Peter

    Sounds all to likely. My first thought on reading this was that this chap must be a “character” whose card had already been marked at some point.

    Something similar happened near where I lived. A first rate man was effectively chopped out over some trifling thing, when his real crime had been to show up dozy colleagues and cruise control managers.

    Regarding the removal of objects from platform lines, it is an open question as to whether current procedures are reducing risks or simply moving them about.

    In the past a quick call to a signaller would block the line – but now a formal line blockage (and paper trail) is needed. So in the case of a dropped item of luggage, the chance of an impatient passenger just jumping down onto the track has probably gone up.

  • Gordon

     This is the usual lack of common sense modern railway problem. Lets be honest at Lymington he would have known the timetable and known exactly how much time there was to the next train. I know someone will say oh yes but what if an extra train was to come? what if there was a diversion or excursion train? Get real on the line concerned was he in any real danger? he did the common sense thing and did what any real railwayman would do. He probably had upset someone higher up because he knows more than them, and this is the way to get back at him. They will also do him for not putting on a hard hat as well. Stop this *****hit now, why do the railways cost so much? because of the thousands of jobsworths trying to look important, doing things like this.

  • Paul Holt

    There is an inconsistency somewhere.   CW above “…the power was not turned off…”

    The reports are that the power was off:

    Before anyone carps about the source, the Mirror says the same: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-world/2011/05/12/station-master-who-removed-shopping-trolley-from-rail-tracks-fired-for-safety-breach-115875-23123995/ 

    If Martin Davis is right below, it will be very hard for CW to get to the bottom of this, because all concerned will be covering it up very thoroughly, just as politicians have been covering up their expense claims.

  • Paul Holt
  • Greg Tingey

    Somone else has noticed this sort of self-defeating actions.
    See HERE:
    http://driverpotter.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/bollocks-to-annual-leave-lets-cure-ignorance/#comment-217
     

  • Driver Potter

     The vote of confidence is always appreciated, but my comments were written in the light of an editorial in RAIL magazine. Since I’m an employee of SWT, I would not wish to comment in either direction regarding Mr Faletto’s case.

  •  he problem with Ian Faletto is that he ” assumed ” that he was dealing with a railway from nearly 20 years or so ago . 

    He was a South West Trains Employee , they merely operate the service using trains leased from the Banks . The station and the land belongs to quasi private company but state underwritten Network Rail , all South West Trains own in that station are bits of Office Furniture and equipment . 

    The track is NOT his concern end of . The Bobby ( Signalman ) who works for Network Rail can’t switch the juice off , that can only be done by Control . They’ll only switch the juice off if there was a fatality etc . 

    You needed  insulation gloves , wooden paddles , wooden bars to put over the juice rail etc even in BR days . 

    We used to get contradictory waffle about PTS cards , you could run the risk of a Form 1 for being on the track even if a train had hit someone and killed someone . 

    Network Rail have got MOM staff that come out in a van if there is due course for concern . 

    There is a lot of politics , some of it you would not believe , in BR days there was a top down Military chain of command , now the chain of command is long and convoluted . The fragmented and dysfunctional railway is held together by contracts instead .

     All the different interests work against each other , fining and blaming each other . The culture is very paranoid . You do not get involved in that ! , and Management can be very spiteful and vindictive re all the petty politics . 

    It is true that Stagecoach ( Parent Company ) of SWT would love to get rid of station staff to cut costs , they are out to make a profit …..they don’t give a flying one about anything else ; but the franchisee does not allow it . However the smart game is to give the barstewards nothing . 

    I’ve had a Area Manager staring at me because of whistle blowing for the right reasons , anonymous letters ; printed in the Union Newsletter and ” coincidental ” visits everyday thereafter ; it wasn’t a problem as everything was by the book , and if said AM wanted to bitch about anything , I’d have called his bluff . In any case he gave up ….it’s the only way to play these people . 

    What does smell about this is that the District apparently had to examine a CCTV tape where a passenger went under a stationary train to retrieve something . 

    It is true that some managers wouldn’t dare say as much as boo to a goose and would cowardly throw their own staff to the wolves to save their sorry asses , he might well be a jumped up expletive deleted hawk ! promoted under the Peter Principle beyond his ability . .
    However with all the politics , I’d be very careful if there was a CCTV camera . 

    However as regards to a Industrial Tribunal , I feel Ian would only have a case if SWT Management have been less than truthful re the justification  for his dismissal . Or ! if adverse inferences can be drawn with all the cost saving politics with or without a small ” p ” . 

    If SWT have followed their own due procedure and not botched anything by dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s , giving Ian enough rope to hang himself with warnings , SWT would be seen as acting reasonably . 

    Secondly SWT could argue that with the unprecedented adverse publicity that the District Manager has been harassed and they’d have a duty of care to protect him . Most organisations biggest nightmare is a disgruntled manager breaking ranks and blowing the whistle damaging corporate image . 

    As for the Union Bashing comments from another century , I very much doubt that Ian is a RMT member , if you do things well out of your remit and come in on your days off for nothing ; it gives the reps problems when representing / protecting their members . His loyalty to SWT was very misplaced or naive at best . 

    Given the poor standard of some ! Railway Management , even some ardent right wingers concede unions are a necessary evil and you could argue some of these Train Operating Companies get precisely the union they deserve due to their confrontational style .

    Please don’t shoot the messenger !! Thanks 
    he problem with Ian Faletto is that he ” assumed ” that he was dealing with a railway from nearly 20 years or so ago . He was a South West Trains Employee , they merely operate the service using trains leased from the Banks . The station and the land belongs to quasi private company but state underwritten Network Rail , all South West Trains own in that station are bits of Office Furniture and equipment . The track is NOT his concern end of . The Bobby ( Signalman ) who works for Network Rail can’t switch the juice off , that can only be done by Control . They’ll only switch the juice off if there was a fatality etc . You needed  insulation gloves , wooden paddles , wooden bars to put over the juice rail etc even in BR days . We used to get contradictory waffle about PTS cards , you could run the risk of a Form 1 for being on the track even if a train had hit someone and killed someone . Network Rail have got MOM staff that come out in a van if there is due course for concern . There is a lot of politics , some of it you would not believe , in BR days there was a top down Military chain of command , now the chain of command is long and convoluted . The fragmented and dysfunctional railway is held together by contracts instead . All the different interests work against each other , fining and blaming each other . The culture is very paranoid . You do not get involved in that ! , and Management can be very spiteful and vindictive re all the petty politics . It is true that Stagecoach ( Parent Company ) of SWT would love to get rid of station staff to cut costs , they are out to make a profit …..they don’t give a flying one about anything else ; but the franchisee does not allow it . However the smart game is to give the barstewards nothing . I’ve had a Area Manager staring at me because of whistle blowing for the right reasons , anonymous letters ; printed in the Union Newsletter and ” coincidental ” visits everyday thereafter ; it wasn’t a problem as everything was by the book , and if said AM wanted to bitch about anything , I’d have called his bluff . In any case he gave up ….it’s the only way to play these people . What does smell about this is that the District apparently had to examine a CCTV tape where a passenger went under a stationary train to retrieve something . It is true that some managers wouldn’t dare say as much as boo to a goose and would cowardly throw their own staff to the wolves to save their sorry asses , he might well be a jumped up expletive deleted hawk ! promoted under the Peter Principle beyond his ability . .However with all the politics , I’d be very careful if there was a CCTV camera . However as regards to a Industrial Tribunal , I feel Ian would only have a case if SWT Management have been less than truthful re the justification  for his dismissal . Or ! if adverse inferences can be drawn with all the cost saving politics with or without a small ” p ” . If SWT have followed their own due procedure and not botched anything by dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s , giving Ian enough rope to hang himself with warnings , SWT would be seen as acting reasonably . Secondly SWT could argue that with the unprecedented adverse publicity that the District Manager has been harassed and they’d have a duty of care to protect him . Most organisations biggest nightmare is a disgruntled manager breaking ranks and blowing the whistle damaging corporate image . As for the Union Bashing comments from another century , I very much doubt that Ian is a RMT member , if you do things well out of your remit and come in on your days off for nothing ; it gives the reps problems when representing / protecting their members . His loyalty to SWT was very misplaced or naive at best . Given the poor standard of some ! Railway Management , even some ardent right wingers concede unions are a necessary evil and you could argue some of these Train Operating Companies get precisely the union they deserve due to their confrontational style .Please don’t shoot the messenger !! Thanks 

  • Anonymous

    Off topic slightly, but if they had any sense they’d have scrapped the whole 3rd rail electrification system completely on the SR decades ago, and converted the whole lot to 25kV OLE like the rest of the network, then you wouldn’t have to have bespoke rolling stock for south of the Thames.  Wishful thinking.

  •  http://www.workplacevictimisation.net/victimisedwhistleblower.html  The Non Confrontational SWT they’re well known for being ruthless and shock horror not completely fair .

    ……The Parent Company Stagecoach have a bad reputation for Bus Wars , their normal tactic is unrealistically low fares often at a heavy loss to drive established operators off the road . Then there’s aggressive takeover bids and asset stripping . Basically it’s race to the bottom stuff with scores of complaints and poor service , SWT are one of the worst TOCs in the country . 

  •  http://www.shrug.info/Hogrider107/Hogrider%20107.html  The SWT fanclub a damming indictment 

  • Tom West

    The dramatic (98%+) drop in railway employee fatalities since 1949 has come about (at least in part) because employyes aren’t allowed to do that sort of thing any more. Lest we forget, Heath and Safety law places an obligation on the employee as much as the employer. (Example: if you work in a noisy factory, your employer is obliged to provide you with ear protection, and you are obliged to use it). The rule for someone in his job is simple: Thou Shalt Not Go On The Tracks.

  • Fandroid

    I seriously dislike the ‘elf & safety gone mad’ brigade. They probably all sit in perfectly comfortable heated and air-conditioned offices with the superb fire safety arrangements that are just about universal nowadays. It wasn’t so long ago that many people had manual jobs with industrial injuries and work-related illness almost taken for granted. My experience in the construction industry led me to believe that you had to adopt a ‘belt & braces’ attitude, combined with a rigid observance of safety rules, just to ensure that no bright spark took it upon themselves to take a relaxed ‘commonsense’ (not!) view and so endanger themselves and their workmates when something slightly unexpected happened. It’s not normally the straightforward risks that kill people, it’s when there’s a combination of unusual circumstances. The knowledgeable application of rules gives the workers a reasonable level of protection when that happens. 

  • Paul Holt

    The reply to “someone” (which only supports your point) is that it is single-train operation, thus there cannot extra/diversion/excursion trains. 

  • Paul Holt

    The reply to “someone” (which only supports your point) is that it is single-train operation, thus there cannot extra/diversion/excursion trains. 

  • Anonymous

    It’s all very well blaming those pesky ‘elf and safety people”, but at the end of the day we have gradually adopted a US-style lawsuit culture over the last couple of decades fuelled by the greed of selfish individuals seeking to make a quick buck at someone else’s expense.  It’s all around us with those ads on TV for compensation law firms encourage to file a claim against for the slightest scratch that could be caused by someone with an insurance policy.

    Companies, rail firms, whatever are only trying to protect their own a**ses at the end of the day, which is understandable, but the side effect is that common sense goes out the window as well as we’ve seen, and whilst advocates of all this who say the “only losers are the insurance companies”, then that’s the the biggest fallacy going IMHO!!

  •  http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/9034966.Sacked_rail_worker_gets_full_support_of_union/  The much maligned RMT and bogey man in chief , Bob Crow are now backing him up . Normally the mere mention of unions is enough to get the core readership of that paper frothing at the mouth in indignant self righteous rage ! . 

    If ? they can get access to the relevant paperwork they’ll go through it with a fine tooth comb and try and find something wrong with it . That is their job . 

    Also the RMT won’t miss a trick as regards to the often unbelievable politics on this countries dysfunctional & fragmentised privatised railway that costs more than six times more in tax payers subsidy compared to the 1990’s . 

    SWT might well be very defensive , obstructive and intransigent though , often it’s a case of who is calling whom militant or bolshy . 

  •  think we’re being a bit too hard on Notwork Rail and TOC penpushers and their huge armies of managers . They provide a valuable service for the otherwise unemployable , think of it as care in the community keeping them out of psychiatric hospitals , and there’s no benefits to be paid .

  • I know a lot of other people have made this point but he was not certified to go on the track; he did not have those qualifications. You are going back to the late 1970’s and 1980’s to find the times when such a thing would be allowed. I had to do it when in a similar position to Ian Faletto and was told by the signalman to go down and supervise a broken crossing in Blundell Lane Oxshott. With little more than an orange jacket I was permitted to stand there and signal trains across that crossing. But that was in the days when authorisation was not really required as we all knew what we were doing on or around the track. Now the procedure is that control get in touch with Network Rail and they get the offending material off the track.

    If Ian Faletto knew this was the procedure then its highly likely that he may well have defied the procedure to act on his own initiative; in which case he did not do the right thing. Of course its so easy to evoke memories of the Railway children but as far as I know the running speed of the Lymington branch is between 15-20 mph, which could not cause a derailment because of a shopping trolley.

    Its a lovely romantic story but worrying in its distortion of what really occured here. But finally I still think that Faletto should get his job back and be given a severe warning not to go on the track again. Many thanks.

  • Hquinn2011

    No trolley on the track. Yet thousands who weren’t witness to him “taking it off the track” blame SWT for all of this. He lied! I pity everyone who asked for his re-instation without the proper evidence. Says a lot about Social Networking. Bandwagons are far to easy to join.

  • Jackson Bravo

    Nice article.Sharing the detail about railway is good.

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