“Let my accident be a warning”: Blind commuter urges Transport Minister not to backflip on train guard promise
The 2018 Blind Australian of the Year, Martin Stewart, addressed the media on Friday 5 July following a meeting at the Fair Work Commission at which he urged the NSW Government not to backflip on its promise to maintain the safety-critical role of train guards on Sydney’s trains.
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) NSW, has been in the Fair Work Commission in an attempt to get the NSW Government to rectify a design fault in the New InterCity Fleet which means that train guards cannot open their door to keep an eye on commuters during the critical 15 second period during the train departure process.
It was during that period that Martin Stewart, who was born blind, fell in between the train and platform when attempting to board a train in Melbourne that had recently had the guards removed. In the absence of a guard, there was no one to hear his cries for help and signal to the driver when he fell. He was dragged 200m under the train, resulting in horrific injuries including the loss of his arm, leg, and part of ear.
“Unless the design fault with these trains is rectified, there’s no doubt we’ll see accidents like mine here in NSW,” Mr Stewart said. “Let my accident be a warning – we can’t afford not to allow guards to conduct their safety critical role on NSW trains.”
“I flew to Sydney and met with the Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, late last year to discuss his then plans to remove guards entirely from our trains. He stood next to me and publicly promised that guards would be maintained on NSW trains in their current roles. But it seems that’s no longer the case.
“A design fault with the trains means that there’s about a 15 second blind spot – a 15 second period when people can fall in the gap between the train and the platform; kids can get separated from their parents; people could get caught in the doors.
“It’s in that period of time that I almost lost my life when I feel between the trains. We can’t afford to allow commuters’ lives to be put at risk because of a design fault on the trains.”
Alex Claassens, RTBU NSW Secretary, said the trains, which are being made in South Korea, are expected to land in Sydney later this year. “The bureaucrats at Transport for NSW – the government organisation overseeing the New InterCity Fleet project – will try and claim that all the safety aspects are covered and that there’s nothing to worry about. That’s simply not true.
“We’ve seen tragedies on trains without train guards before. We can’t afford to let that happen here in NSW.
“This design fault is bad for commuters, bad for the train guards, and bad for other workers like the train drivers who are already under immense pressure. The mental and emotional toll traumatic incidents take on everyone involved is immeasurable.”