Union defends walk-out over safety fears

A transport union has defended today’s rail strike and threatened further action against the authorities in its ongoing safety dispute.

Up to 2,000 members of the RMT have walked out at Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North in separate disputes over staffing.

An RMT member on a picket line

An RMT member on a picket line

More than half of services on Merseyrail and Arriva on Monday are cancelled, while Southern has said it aims to run most of its 2,200 trains.

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The RMT revealed it was considering legal options over “failure” of the Office of Rail Regulation to protect the rights of disabled passengers on Southern.

Officials said their concerns arise from reports from members and passengers that disabled passengers on Southern are being treated less favourably than other passengers as a result of the company’s decision to end the guarantee of a guard on new driver only services.

Arriva Rail North should listen to their staff, listen to the public and recognise that there is no case whatsoever for axing the guard

Mick Cash

The union said the ORR has not made a completed assessment of the effects on disabled passengers of removing the guarantee of a guard prior to Southern implementing its changes at the start of the year.

General secretary Mick Cash said: “It is obviously the case that if a disabled passenger once had the guarantee of a guard on their service and that guarantee is withdrawn then the disabled passenger has been disadvantaged.

“Far from being about modernisation, driver only trains turns the clock back on the rights of disabled and older passengers.

“We will now be consulting our legal team on further options but in the meantime are calling on the ORR as the disabled access regulator to make public their views on whether Southern are meeting their obligations to disabled passengers.”

Mr Cash said up to a quarter of fare revenue on Merseyrail was being used to pay for dividends of around £14 million a year.

“That is frankly obscene under any circumstances but the fact that around £14 million a year is being allowed to leak out of Merseyrail while at the same time senior Liverpool politicians are pleading poverty as an excuse to get rid of guards will be utterly unacceptable for passengers and council tax payers. As Merseyrail is part-owned by the Dutch state railway it is a case of Merseyside 0 Holland £14 million.”

Mr Cash also spoke on Monday morning about the Arriva Rail North dispute which has seen some services from Wigan affected, blaming the train operator for the industrial dispute.

He said: “RMT’s action on Arriva Rail North this morning is absolutely rock solid and determined as our members ‎fight for passenger safety and the retention of the guard on the Northern Rail services. Our pickets are out across the franchise and the response has been fantastic.

“Arriva Rail North should listen to their staff, listen to the public and recognise that there is no case whatsoever for axing the guard from their trains.

“This action could have been avoided if Arriva hadn’t back pedalled from earlier pledges to retain the guard. It is now down to the company to ‎get that pledge back on the table and engage with the union in talks over a safe and sustainable future built around the guarantee of a guard on the trains.”