Safety alert over 'unacceptable' shortage of fully trained Tube station staff

A Tube union has issued a safety alert about an “unacceptable” shortage of fully trained station staff in the wake of a major incident on the Northern line.

Hundreds of passengers “turned to desperate measures” to flee a stalled train at Clapham Common station in May last year when it began to fill with smoke.

Passengers waiting on the platform smashed train windows to help those on board to escape after station staff took four-and-a-half minutes to respond.

An official report from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, published last week, said perceived inaction by station staff contributed to rising fear among passengers of a potentially deadly fire.

Andrew Hall, RAIB chief inspector of rail accidents, said: “During this incident staff didn’t fully appreciate the emerging safety risk when passengers’ behaviour began to escalate as they became increasingly anxious.”

The RAIB made three recommendations to Transport for London to improve safety and staff training.

Now the RMT union has called for London Underground’s safety forum to be reconvened.

It said both the RAIB and TfL’s own internal investigation – which praised staff for their quick thinking – had identified a critical need for enhanced training for station and operational staff.

But it accused TfL of increasingly relying on office staff to cover front-line roles after two days of training.

The RMT said office staff known as "ambassadors" were being used to in central London stations.

It said more than 5,000 station staff shifts were covered by ambassadors between October 1, 2022, and October 29, 2023.

It claims the practice is “unacceptable and poses significant risks to passenger safety” and that immediate steps must now be taken to address concerns.

“Ambassadors” were not on duty at the time of the Clapham Common incident.

Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said: "We are demanding the reversal of the ‘Fit for the Future’ and stations modernisation programmes, which have resulted in significant cuts to station jobs over the past decade.

"Rather than continuing to cut staff, we need at least 500 new jobs to ensure adequate staffing and enhanced safety across the tube network.

"The safety forum should establish a robust process for monitoring the implementation of both the RAIB and [TfL] recommendations, ensuring ongoing compliance and safety improvements.

"RMT looks forward to a prompt and comprehensive response from the Mayor to these urgent safety concerns."

TfL said it was already improving training in the wake of the incident. It said staffing levels was not a factor in what happened.

Nick Dent, TfL’s Director of Customer Operations said: “TfL first introduced the licenced ambassador programme during the London 2012 Olympics.

“Since then our ambassadors have helped to keep the network moving during major events such as the European Football Championships, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, the King’s Coronation, Notting Hill Carnival, Pride in London, and periods of industrial action.

“These colleagues undertake critical safety training to enable them to work in operational roles alongside station colleagues, supporting them during busy periods and gaining vital experience of frontline operations.

“There are around 19,000 staff working on London Underground every day, and the number of shifts worked by ambassadors is comparatively very small.

“Around 75 per cent of the 5,000 ambassador shifts during the period of October 2022 to October 2023 were made up of staff assisting customers during major events in London, with the remaining shifts supporting stations experiencing short-term absences, such as during periods of recruitment.”