Borders rail staff made to clean steam train toilet waste

RMT official Michael Hogg is angry about the human waste falling on the Borders Rail tracks from steam trains. Picture: Gordon Fraser
RMT official Michael Hogg is angry about the human waste falling on the Borders Rail tracks from steam trains. Picture: Gordon Fraser
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RAIL workers on the new Borders line have been forced to clear up human waste being dumped on the track by steam trains.

Raw sewage from carriages pulled by the Union of South Africa was discarded on the line between Waverley and Tweedbank.

The steam train transported the Queen to the Borders for the line’s official opening on September 9 and, since then, has carried 6500 railway enthusiasts and day-trippers on three return excursions per week.

Union of South Africa’s inaugural programme ended on Sunday, but the popularity of its journey through the Capital, Midlothian and the Borders suggests that further charter trips will be arranged.

Michael Hogg, of the RMT rail union, said it was horrifying that rail workers had to deal with the disposal of human excrement.

Mr Hogg, from Mayfield, said: “Our members who have to change rail sleepers and maintain the rails are having to do so while dealing with raw sewage that’s been dumped on the tracks from this steam train’s rolling stock.

“It’s disgusting and it’s just not acceptable.”

The RMT has an agreement with the Scottish Government by which all trains on the ScotRail franchise will be fitted with waste collection units by December 2017.

Although diesel trains on the regular Borders services retain human waste, the use of older carriages to carry passengers on Union of South Africa trips skirts the rules for modern trains.

Mr Hogg said: “It’s diabolical that in this day and age people have to put up with these kind of working conditions.

“It’s bad enough having human waste on the tracks, but you’re having workers stand back for a passing train and be sprayed with raw sewage.

“We’re talking about people possibly being exposed to harmful bacteria that could cause illness and disease, such as hepatitis C.”

He added: “We appreciate that these steam rail trips are very, very popular and are likely to continue, but we can’t accept the use of old rolling stock which fails to 
prevent waste ending up on the tracks.”

ScotRail has confirmed that steam train toilets are not fitted with tanks to collect human waste.

For the Borders Railway steam train specials, however, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has given the rail company permission to allow customers to use the toilets while the train is between stations.

Onboard toilets remain locked when the train is stabled in or near a station.

A spokeswoman for the ScotRail Alliance said: “The line has been closely monitored and, now that the last steam train has run on the line, our specialist team will carry out a full track clean.”

Last week, the News told how two services had to be cancelled on the Borders line amid overcrowding.

The school holiday trains were replaced by buses as passenger numbers soared.