TRAIN services across Wales - operated by the company soon to take over Yorkshire’s local rail routes - were halted today because of a strike by drivers in a row over pay and conditions.
Members of Aslef at Arriva Trains Wales walked out for 24 hours, causing travel chaos on the first day back to work after the festive break.
The company said all its services were cancelled because of the strike and some early morning trains could also be disrupted tomorrow.
Last month, Arriva was awarded the franchise to operate all the local train services in Yorkshire and across the north, replacing Northern Rail.
An Arriva statement said: “We are advising customers to make alternative travel arrangements for Monday January 4 and to check their travel plans for Tuesday morning, January 5.
“An indefinite train driver overtime ban is also currently in force which may impact some timetabled services until the dispute is resolved.”
It added: “Arriva Trains Wales apologise for this disruption and is seeking the soonest resolution.”
Gareth Thomas, HR director for Arriva Trains Wales, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the train drivers’ unions have not accepted our latest offer of improvements to terms, conditions and pay for their members, and that they have opted to take industrial action, even though we submitted a revised proposal to them on December 23, following productive pre-Christmas talks.
“Directors at Arriva Trains Wales have been in contact almost every day with union officials in a bid to resolve this issue and stress the urgency of the situation if disruption to customers was to be avoided.”
The union denied company claims that a new offer had been made.
Simon Weller, Aslef’s national organiser, who is leading negotiations for the drivers, said: “The company has not made a new offer. It has sent us a form of words. But it is not new and it is not an offer.”
Aslef said it was available for talks to resolve the dispute but added there was nothing at the moment to discuss. The pay side of the dispute has been accepted but Aslef claims the company is trying to “railroad through” changes to terms and conditions.
Mick Cash, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, whose members at ATW are also on strike, said: “RMT salutes our driver members on Arriva Trains Wales who are standing rock-solid, shoulder-to-shoulder with Aslef colleagues in the action which has closed down all services.
“This strike is about basic workplace justice and decent working conditions and it is down to the company to recognise the anger amongst the workforce shown this morning and to meet with the unions for genuine and meaningful talks on the issues in dispute.”
Arriva’s new northern franchise requires providing extra capacity on trains in and out of Leeds and Sheffield at peak times and improved services for Bradford and Hull.
The firm previously held the northern franchise from 1997 to 2004. In 2001 it was fined £2 million by the Strategic Rail Authority for poor performance, after coming in for heavy criticism from passengers when it announced it would cut more than 1,000 services a week because of a driver shortage.
In 2000, Arriva paid more than £9 million to the authority after failing to meet performance targets.
In 2003 an all-party MPs’ report criticised the company for the time it took to take action on staffing problems, which it said had led to “appalling passenger services, with trains delayed or cancelled”.