Almost 500 Translink staff and passengers have been assaulted in the course of their employment or while travelling since 2010, new figures have shown.
A further 164 members of staff have had their complaint of being threatened recorded, but both an employee and a union official claim the problem is more widespread than the available statistics indicate.
You wouldn’t believe the abuse we get just for doing our jobs, and you get a fair few threatsNI Railways employee
One NI Railways worker told the News Letter that the level of violence and threatening behaviour directed towards staff was intolerable, and that his employers tended to “play down” the severity of many incidents.
“We just have a sense that [NI Railways management] aren’t treating this seriously,” he said.
“Most of the time there is just one of us on the train and its a nightmare if something kicks off. You wouldn’t believe the abuse we get [from the public] sometimes just for doing our jobs, and you get a fair few threats.
“I haven’t been too bad but some of the staff have been beaten up and it just seems that we’re expected to carry on as if nothing had happened. You hear about how [the management] are going to sort this out, but it’s just happening far too often.”
The figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request show that since January 2010 a total of 226 physical assaults on staff have been recorded, with 245 passengers also reporting having been assaulted on Translink property.
The employee, who did not wish to be named, added: “I think it’s time everyone who assaults a member of staff should be prosecuted - to get the message out that it won’t be tolerated.
“If you get the figures that’s only half of the story. There are loads of cases where you think you could be assaulted, because people get so aggressive, but it ends up nothing is done about it because no one got hurt. They just expect us to carry on.
Translink reported 198 of the cases listed to the PSNI.
On average around 35 assaults on Translink staff are recorded every year, according to the latest figures.
The scale of the problem has not diminished significantly since North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon raised the issue at Westminster in 2007.
The then secretary of state Peter Hain revealed there had been 110 recorded assaults on staff over a three year period – 37 per year on average.
The issue was highlighted again in April last year when Translink offered a £1,000 reward in connection with a ‘road rage’ assault on a bus driver.
Police were called after the driver of a black BMW forced the Goldline Omagh to Belfast bus onto the hard should of the M1 motorway and attempted to pull the Translink employee through the window.
The incident took place on a Saturday afternoon when there were a number of passengers on board the bus.
In July this year, services to part of the Lagmore area of Belfast were suspended after a brick and petrol bomb attack on a bus.
In the company’s staff protection policy document, violence is defined as physical assault, as well as “a threat by word, weapon or action which suggests a possible future act of assault and/or persistent harassment”.
It adds: “Verbal abuse is not considered to be a violent incident but will be recorded...however, excessive or prolonged verbal abuse may have a psychological impact.”
• A Translink spokeswoman said safety is their “top priority,” and that a number of steps to increase employee and passenger safety have been introduced.
She said: “We take all workplace violence extremely seriously whether this is verbal or physical abuse.
“All our staff have the right to work without fear and we take a zero tolerance approach to stamp out intimidating antisocial behaviour. However, it is important to put some context around these figures; we operate around 80 million passenger journeys every year – over 12,000 services every day and the majority of these are safe and without incident.
“CCTV cameras are also installed on our Metro buses, local and cross border trains and Goldline and Ulsterbus vehicles.
“We continue to work with our trade unions, and colleagues across the industry to monitor this kind of route crime and explore new methods and technology to catch the perpetrators.”
The spokeswoman said the company “provides emotional support and guidance” for employees who have suffered from physical or verbal assault, and added: “We also work closely with trade unions as we know how important it is to help individuals to return to work through an appropriate plan.
“To encourage the public to report instances of anti-social behaviour, we operate a reward scheme which pays out up to £1000 to anyone who witnesses and gives evidence of any incident of trespass, vandalism or assault that result in a successful conviction.”