TfL U-turn over Highbury Overground staff cuts

Rail bosses yesterday decided not to remove staff from Highbury & Islington Overground station after customers expressed safety concerns.Staff would be removed from four Overground stations: Canada Water, West Brompton, Blackhorse Road and Highbury & Islington.

The decision comes amidst record budget cuts by TfL after the Department for Transport announced in 2015 that it would have to withdraw its £700m funding pool for TfL, leaving the organisation to face the prospect of having to self-fund services through higher fares and commercial partnerships.

Isabel Simpson uses the station to commute to work in central London daily.  “It’s the exact opposite of what they said. It’s not great that they’re lying”, she said.

The move to cut staff was met with anger from commuters and passengers alike, many of whom cited safety concerns.

In December 2016, 30-year-old Adrian Brown stabbed a 40-year-old man at Forest Hill Overground station in South-East London after shouting “I want to kill a Muslim” on a packed commuter train while in 2015, a man was brutally beaten to death late at night by a teenage gang in Stratford Overground station.

“It makes me feel uneasy” said Funke Roberts who uses the Overground services throughout the week. “We need reassurance and to know that someone’s there.”

Jason Phillips, another commuter said: “I think TfL have a responsibility to ensure that all their customers are safe and secure. How TfL chooses to carry out is down to them”.

However, in a major reversal of plans, TfL announced that they will now keep staff at the three stations, including at Highbury & Islington.

Commenting on the decision, Jonathan Fox, TfL’s Director of London Rail, said: “All of our stations will be staffed at all times trains are operating, providing help to passengers and turn up and go assistance for those with access needs. There are no plans to change this.”

However, Steve Hedley the  Senior Assistant General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) said: “Highbury & Islington Overground station is a busy interchange station and is well used. TfL did not approach us originally about the staff changes. We only picked it up through media coverage. This is the latest in a series of cutbacks which have put public safety on TfL services at risk. Whilst welcome the decision by TfL and accept that they have been under severe financial pressure, we fear that they axe may fall in other parts of the TfL network.”

Echoing Hedley’s comments, Caroline Pidgeon, Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee slammed TfL, saying that: “In just a few days TfL have gone from admitting they were reviewing staffing levels at a number London Overground stations to now saying its long standing policy of staffing every station from the first to last train will not change one iota.

“I welcome this rapid back down by TfL, which now gives the assurance that passengers and especially disabled people, so desperately need when using the London Overground at Highbury and Islington and elsewhere.”

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