‘Trains guards saved me’: Lithgow woman speaks out against Blue Mountains line changes

WORRIED ABOUT CHANGES: Samantha Steele and her husband Adam at the Lithgow Mercury office. Picture: KIRSTY HORTON.
WORRIED ABOUT CHANGES: Samantha Steele and her husband Adam at the Lithgow Mercury office. Picture: KIRSTY HORTON.

For Samantha Steele, the presence of a guard on Blue Mountains trains services is not just a convenience – it has saved her life.

The Lithgow woman is convinced that a plan to restructure the train system to replace guards with customer service representatives on longer journeys will have negative repercussions for all train users, and especially for people living with disabilities. 

When she was pregnant with her second child, the mother of three suffered a medical episode while riding the Blue Mountains line, a seizure that interfered with her breathing. The train stopped at Woodford and she waited for emergency assistance.  

“[The guard] kept me alive waiting 20 minutes for an ambulance to get there,” she said.  

“For people with a disability, they act as a big security blanket.

“To not have that available, it concerns me, and I speak to a lot of other people who are also concerned about it as well.”

In another terrifying incident, Mrs Steele was seated beside a window with two of her young children when it was hit by a rock thrown from the outside near Lawson, showering her with glass. The incident sparked another seizure and her daughter knew exactly where to go for help: the guard.

A TrainLink spokesperson said the new customer service roles would include training in first aid and other skills necessary for the role. 

“The safety of our customers and staff is our number one priority,” the spokesperson said. 

“We will be working closely with safety regulators, unions and our staff to ensure any changes to crewing meet our high standards of safety.”

According to the plans, some inner city trains will run with only a driver. 

For Mrs Steele, the guards were not just there for security.

“They are looking after school groups, making sure people get off at the right stations,” she said.  

“I’ve seen guards run down two carriages to save a little one that has fallen down the gap. A couple of months ago, an elderly lady went down and the guards had to help.

“I try to explain to people that they are not just glorified passengers. When a woman goes into labour, they’re the ones catching babies.”

An outspoken advocate for trains and improved public transport for people with a disability, Mrs Steele said her requests for safety improvements had fallen on deaf ears.

She said it was clear that there had been no consultation with people with disabilities or advocacy groups in making these decisions.

“There has not been enough consultation with the community generally,” she said. 

“People have so many unanswered questions.”

A frequent-flier on our train service, Mrs Steele said guards using the service had got to know her and her family, allowing her to confidently use trains into Sydney.

“The system already has issues, particularly safety,” she said.  

She has found herself in the middle of skirmishes between passengers and been the subject of abuse from alcohol and drug affected passengers. 

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Mrs Steele said she believed she had a right to continue to use the service safely and independently. 

“When I have contacted people about my concerns, often the first thing they say is, well you should have a carer with you,” she said. 

“I’m waiting on a motorised wheelchair and, when it comes, I want to be able to use the service independently. 

“My girls want us to be just like everybody else and ask me when can we have a mummy daughter day. Those normal things you take for granted.”

Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle has stated “downgrading the hard working, crucial roles [of train guards] to customer service positions was the government’s first step to justifying their ultimate goal – driver only operations”.

“Their plan to sack our train guards was first revealed in the same Intercity Fleet tender documents that showed the new trains would be too wide to fit through the tracks and tunnels west of Springwood. In the same document where they accidentally ordered trains that don’t fit the tracks, they specifically requested a train that could be operated in ‘Driver Only Operating Mode’.

Ms Doyle is gathering signatures on a petition in her Springwood office “against this stupid plan and I encourage anybody concerned about safety on our railways to contact me and I will provide copies”.