An open call: Trains, disruption and safeguarding schoolkids

During the major Thameslink rail line disruption on Friday, I found myself sitting on a stationary train at my local station, frustrated like all the other passengers.

As I finished emailing colleagues about the delays and finally got-over-myself for being annoyed at something unavoidable. I noticed a young child in school uniform, sitting alone and looking nervous as he tried to make calls on his mobile phone.

When he eventually got through on the phone, I heard him speak to his mother explaining the train was stuck and he didn’t know what to do. He explained the taxi rank queue was huge and he didn’t have any cash to catch one anyway, that the updates on the tannoy only explained the train wouldn’t be going anywhere soon and he couldn’t see anyone to ask for help.

As he explored options on the phone, it was clear he was (thankfully) going to get picked up by mum and all would be fine.

At that moment, it occurred to me that not one member of staff had checked he was ok before then, no tannoy announcements addressed children commuting to school, and there seemed to be no prioritisation for kids at the taxi rank. In fact, I don’t think I have *ever* heard an announcement specifically for children on a train in my life.

I contacted First Capital Connect shortly afterwards to ask them to make sure they were providing guidance for schoolchildren and, if possible, organising for children to get to the front of taxi queues to ensure they travelled safely and didn’t attempt potentially long walks home or to school (especially in this weather). They assured me this is already covered, but in hindsight I feel sceptical about this, as it clearly hadn’t happened that morning.

If this was an isolated incident I’d leave it there, but this is Britain. We will have the wrong leaves, snow or winds in the coming weeks. Overhead cables will break and need mending too. So this will happen again.

Which is why I’d like to put a public call out to rail providers before this happens again. It’s goes like this…

During disruption on lines where children  commute to school, rail providers should pledge to:

1. Provide relevant information specifically for children over tannoys.

2. Staff on trains and stations seek out children to ensure they are aware of support and the information available.

3. Local schools will be alerted of rail disruptions immediately – to allow them to organise travel or liaison as needed for their pupils.

4. Children will be prioritised in taxi ranks, with the rail provider picking up the taxi fare to ensure safe travel.

I don’t believe this is a big ask. Plus, it might be some providers do this already, however I’ve never seen it in my 14 years commuting.

In St Albans where I am a District Councillor, I will be requesting this is discussed at the next Local Services Scrutiny Committee in March.

If you agree, I hope you will join me in raising this to rail operators before the next disruption occurs.

Let me know your thoughts below.


*** UPDATE  – 22/01/14***

Good news. Following Cllr Heritage passing on the blog post internally at Hertfordshire County Council, I received an email from the Executive Lead for Children’s Services Hertfordshire – Cllr Richard Roberts. He confirmed he is taking this request very seriously, specifically noting:

“The key point is that railway staff need to be aware and trained on safeguarding issues just as much as any other public service that interacts with children. Its all our duty to keep children safe not social care to pick up the pieces when its gone wrong.”

I look forward to sharing further updates as they come through…

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