MP says she hopes dispute will lead to a rail rethink

RMT Union members picket outside Wigan Wallgate on Monday, March 13.

RMT Union members picket outside Wigan Wallgate on Monday, March 13.

Wigan’s MP has given her support to a rail union’s safety campaign which led to major strike action earlier this week.

Lisa Nandy backed an early day motion in Parliament welcoming the fact that every Northern train currently has a guard on board and expressing concern at the possibility of driver-only rail services.

Members of the rail union RMT employed by three operators including Arriva Rail North walked out on Monday in separate disputes on the issue, with more than half of the services from Wigan Wallgate being cancelled as a result.

The MPs motion, proposed by Labour member for Gateshead Ian Mearns, also expressed alarm the row between unions and rail bosses had not been resolved as agreements to keep guards had been agreed elsewhere in the country.

Ms Nandy said: “The introduction of driver-only trains will be bad for passengers and for staff in Wigan. Conductors play a vital role in ensuring our railways are open to everyone, women, older people and those with disabilities.

“Northern and the Government’s refusal to understand this has caused this week’s disruption. Passengers have had to put up with rising prices and overcrowded trains in recent years. They should not also face further barriers to travelling on our publicly-funded railways. I hope this week’s action makes ministers think again.”

The motion was: “That this House welcomes the fact that Northern Rail passengers are currently guaranteed a safety-critical train guard on board every Northern Rail train to assist in protecting the safety of the train and passengers, provide advice and assistance and allow disabled passengers to embark and disembark at unstaffed stations”.

The text also said MPs are “concerned at proposals for the Arriva Northern Rail franchise, let by the Department for Transport and jointly managed with Rail North councils, that will end the guarantee of there being a guard on every train by introducing driver-only operation on at least 50 per cent of services”.

The motion also discussed the RMT action, saying: “there is no need for such a dispute if Northern Rail is allowed by the Government and Rail North to reach a similar agreement to those recently reached by TransPennine Express and Scotrail which have retained guards”.

The RMT said it was delighted the MPs had given their backing to retaining guards. General secretary Mick Cash said: “We welcome the support of MPs for the right of passengers to be able to keep the guarantee of a guard on trains.”