Rail strike threat over toilet waste on tracks

Rail staff are having to endure unpleasant discharges from the toilets.  Picture: Ian Georgeson
Rail staff are having to endure unpleasant discharges from the toilets. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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HUMAN waste flushed on to rail tracks has sparked a threat of industrial action.

It follows complaints that railway and train maintenance staff are having to endure unpleasant discharges from on-board toilets as they go about their duties.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), the UK’s largest transport union, says the problem could be solved easily by new technology which is widely available.

But effluent retention tanks have yet to be fitted on almost ten per cent of carriages with toilet facilities on ScotRail 
services. The Scottish Government has pledged they will be compulsory under the new ScotRail franchise but have allowed until 2020 for the tanks to be fitted.

Transport Minister Keith Brown has said that Abellio, which will take over the franchise, will discharge no waste on tracks by 2017. The RMT, however, has said it is not prepared to wait more than three years.

Gordon Martin, Scottish organiser for the RMT, has met transport chiefs in a bid to win further concessions and has demanded that the deadline is brought forward to April 2016.

“We have been raising this for some time and our position is we have now had enough of it,” he said. “We want action and we want it now.”

He said if businesses were emptying their toilets into the street, people would have an issue with it. “But this is happening in our workplace. It is unhygienic and potentially very unhealthy. Our members are telling me it is unacceptable in this day and age.”

Asked whether the union – with a reputation for being among the most militant in the UK – would consider industrial action, Mr Martin said he would not rule it out.

The Scottish Government has confirmed that trains dump waste directly on tracks on some of the busiest routes in the country. Trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Shotts, Edinburgh to Newcraighall and Edinburgh to Fife are amomng those still to be updated.

Overall there are 48 ScotRail carriages with passenger toilet facilities not connected to effluent retention tanks.

Services between Glasgow Queen Street and Alloa, Oban, Fort William and Mallaig also dump waste directly on to the tracks, as does East Coast.

Mr Brown, who is standing for the SNP deputy leadership, said the 2020 deadline had been set to give operators enough time to remove trains from service to allow for the installation of the tanks without affecting services.

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said any potential industrial dispute was a matter for the employer and trade unions.