Toilet waste from older trains risks workers health, union claims

Effluent being discharged from a train
Image caption One in 10 carriages in the UK still release toilet waste on to tracks, an industry body admitted

Rail workers' health is being risked by sewage flushed from older coaches on to the tracks, a union has said.

Ken Usher, from the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), said more investment was needed to upgrade stock.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which speaks for operators and Network Rail, said one in 10 coaches in the UK still released toilet waste on to the tracks.

It said a Rail Safety and Standards Board inquiry into the practice showed the health risk was "relatively low".

Trains operating in Britain without retention tanks

  • First Great Western - exact figure not known but "significant in number"
  • Arriva Trains Wales - exact figure not known but "significant in number"
  • London Midland - 18
  • CrossCountry - 5
  • Chiltern Railways has had all of its rolling stock retro-fitted with retention tanks

Figures obtained by the BBC's Inside Out West Midlands

Mr Usher said train workers were at risk of contracting infections and illnesses such as hepatitis and E.coli from being in contact with sewage.

"Working trackside is a dirty job at the best of times - if you are sprayed with effluent it makes it even worse.

"If you can imagine a toilet being flushed at between 40 and 70 mph alongside you, you can get sprayed with just about any liquid and solids… not very nice at all," he said.

He said investment in retention tanks for older coaches, and in new rolling stock, would create jobs and end the problem. Retention tanks on the toilets mean the waste can be stored and taken to stations to be placed into the sewage system, rather than flushed on to the tracks.

The union has 17,000 members working across the rail network.

Image caption Susan Lea's garden has been sprayed with effluent from a train

Susan Lea, from Shotton in Flintshire, has a railway line at the bottom of her property, and has had toilet waste from a train blown into her garden.

"[It was] all over my washing, all over the garden, all over the fence, all over the chairs, all over the floor, it was everywhere.

"They wrote to me and told me that they're allowed to drop this sewerage - it's not fair on people older, like me, who have to clear it up if it does come in their garden."

Seb Gordon, from RDG, told the BBC's Inside Out West Midlands: "The rail safety board, the rail safety organisation, has looked into [waste from trains] and has found that it's a relatively low risk."

Nevertheless, he said this was a problem rail companies took "seriously", and investment in new rolling stock meant it was "an issue with fewer trains".

Inside Out West Midland, broadcast on Monday, 12 January, is available on the iPlayer.

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