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Workers at four rail firms to take strike action in row over driver-only trains

The strikes will coincide with the Tory Party conference in Manchester.

Workers at four rail companies are to stage two 24-hour strikes in worsening disputes over the role of guards and driver-only trains.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Southern, Merseyrail, Arriva Rail North and Greater Anglia will walk out on October 3 and 5.

The strikes will coincide with the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester.

The Southern dispute started 18 months ago and the RMT has taken more than 30 days of strike action, causing misery for the company’s 300,000 passengers.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the union wanted to resolve all the disputes with talks including the Department for Transport (DfT).

“RMT is bitterly disappointed that Southern Rail and the DfT continue to reject our call for round-table discussions involving all parties,” he said.

“The failure to get those talks moving following our face-to-face meeting with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has left us no option but to call further action.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the strikes were about safety on the railways (Nick Ansell/PA)

“RMT has a clear plan for resolving this dispute but that requires round-table talks now to push forwards. This fiasco cannot be allowed to drag on any longer.

“Greater Anglia have been given every opportunity to give a guarantee on the future role of the guard on their services. They have failed to do so and that left us with no alternative but to move to a ballot in the interests of rail safety.

“Our members voted by massive majorities for action but the company have ignored that and have failed to seize the opportunity to give us the very simple assurances on the future of the guards, and the guarantee of a second safety-critical member of staff on current services.”

Mr Cash accused Arriva Rail North of “intransigence”, adding: “The responsibility for the inevitable disruption lies wholly with the company. We are angry and frustrated that Arriva continue to fail to face up to the facts and also continue to ignore a perfectly reasonable union proposal to invite the DfT to join us in round-table talks aimed at finding a solution.”

A petition in defence of guards on Merseyrail has attracted more than 20,000 signatures.

Mr Cash said: “Merseyrail have repeatedly kicked all conciliatory approaches by RMT negotiators back in our faces and made it crystal clear that all that they are interested in is the union signing a surrender document which gives them a free hand to rip apart the safety culture on the railway.

Members of the RMT union are staging two 24-hour strikes (Charlotte Ball/PA)

“It is that cynical and hostile stance from Merseyrail which has left us with no option but (to) press ahead with a further two‎ days of strike action.”

The Merseyrail strike will coincide with the first phase of work to transform Liverpool Lime Street mainline station.

Between September 30 and October 22 Network Rail will embark on a major project to overhaul the station. No trains will enter or leave Lime Street mainline station for nine days, and many will be diverted.

Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, Merseyrail’s managing director, said: “We are busy trying to build a better city region with an improved railway.

“The RMT seem to be doing everything in their power to destroy this work. Don’t they want Liverpool to succeed?”

Richard Allan, Arriva Rail North’s deputy managing director, said: “Northern is modernising local rail with new and refurbished trains, better stations and faster journeys, and while strike action is disruptive, we remain firmly focused on delivering a better service for our customers.

“RMT continues to reject our offers to talk and we are disappointed that the union has called further strike action.

“We are still prepared to guarantee jobs and current pay for all our conductors for the next eight years.”

Nick Brown, chief operating officer for Southern’s parent company Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “We are disappointed by this unnecessary action and the RMT’s continued refusal to engage with us in modernising the railway.

“Last strike, we ran a normal service on most of our routes but passengers will inevitably be affected in places and we deeply regret any inconvenience these strikes will cause.

“Modernisation is urgently required to future-proof and increase capacity on this, the busiest part of the UK railway, where passenger numbers have doubled in 12 years.

“As well as better infrastructure and new trains, we have updated working practices to make the most of new technology and improve service levels for passengers.

“The RMT needs to play its part if passengers are to benefit from service improvements.”

Richard Dean, train service delivery director at Greater Anglia, said: “We are obviously disappointed with the announcement today. We’re keen to talk to the RMT to try and resolve the issues involved and to avert industrial action.

“In the event of industrial action going ahead, we’d like to reassure customers that we have contingency plans in place and intend to run a full service.

“We value our conductors highly and we have guaranteed their jobs until the end of the franchise in October 2025. In fact, we will be recruiting additional conductors, as we are replacing all of our trains with brand new trains from 2019, which will enable us to run more services.”

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