Train maintenance workers’ health ‘at risk’ from sewage on railway lines, warns union

The health of train maintenance workers is being put at risk as railway operators continue to allow sewage from train toilets to be dropped on the tracks, according to a union.

Unite has condemned the long delays to end what it terms the “disgusting” dumping of human waste, after Network Rail and train operators admitted they would not be able to meet the target to stop doing so by the end of 2019.

In 2017 the Department for Transport said all railway operators would need to ensure trains had modern toilets by the end of this year, but several operators have now applied for exemptions.

Unite said the sewage that is flushed from train toilets often becomes stuck under the carriages. Unless there are specialised washing facilities, maintenance workers have to clean the waste off before they can make repairs or carry out inspections, potentially putting their health at risk.

The union said one depot, which maintains trains for two operators that continue to drop sewage on the tracks, was the subject of an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive. Its report found “high levels of airborne coliforms” that were in “an order of magnitude greater than found in sewage treatment plants”.

The HSE’s report recommended that specialised washing facilities should be installed at maintenance depots to ensure workers’ health was not compromised.

Unite national officer for rail Harish Patel said: “Our members are being forced to work in disgusting conditions, which is directly endangering their health. The underside of trains are dirtier than sewage plants.

“The only way to protect workers’ health is to have the trains cleaned in a separate purpose-built facility. This is being undertaken in many depots; where this is not happening we are advising our members the health risk is unacceptable.”

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