THE REMOVAL of guards from trains and staff from stations is a "toxic cocktail that gives the criminals a free hand on Britain’s violent railways", a rail union has claimed.
The RMT, which will stage the latest in a series of walk-outs tomorrow in a row with operator Northern over the role of train guards, said police figures showed a surge in violence on the railways in the North.
Earlier this year, The Yorkshire Post exclusively revealed that the number of violent crimes on Yorkshire’s railways had more than doubled in two years.
At the time, the British Transport Police (BTP) said they were facing challenges at major city stations such as Leeds and York, which were fast becoming “entertainment hubs” popular with late-night revellers.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said rising crime on the railways “exposes the madness of removing the guard from the train”.
The union said train guards were currently the only protection available for passengers at the 330 unstaffed stations on Northern routes.
Mr Cash said: “No staff on many routes and lines, no staff on the stations and no staff on the trains travelling through 330 stations means that much of the railway will increasingly become no-go areas for vulnerable passengers and new crime hot spots.
“At the same time our isolated drivers will be on their own, exposed to anti-social and violent behaviour.
“As well as these dangers there will be also be disadvantages for disabled and older passengers who require assistance because there will be no one there to help them on and off the train or provide assistance during their journey. No guard on the trains, combined with the destaffing of stations, is a toxic cocktail that gives the criminals a free hand on Britain’s violent railways.”
The RMT pointed to broad-brush figures published by BTP for the whole of the North of England which show a near-20 per cent rise in violence and an eight per cent rise in robberies in 2016/17.
But Northern pointed out that RMT claims of a surge in violence at unmanned Northern stations in particular could not be backed up by these statistics.
A spokesman for Northern said: “Travelling to and from Northern stations is safe and it is inaccurate and misleading of the RMT to suggest otherwise.
“Over 100m passenger journeys are made on Northern’s network each year and there is no evidence that crime at Northern stations, in particular those which are unmanned, has increased. The figures released by BTP last year relate to the entire Pennine region, which includes all stations in the region managed by Northern, TPE, East Midlands, LNER, London Northwestern, Network Rail and Virgin.
“Many of the crimes reported will have been recorded at hub stations such as Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool, Leeds, York, Newcastle and Sheffield, which are not Northern stations.”
The spokesman said safety of passengers was Northern’s top priority.
He said: “We want all customers to be safe – and feel safe – when travelling with Northern and, since the start of the franchise, have introduced 55 Travel Safe Officers who journey across the network during operational hours to provide advice and reassurance.”
RMT is holding strikes every Saturday until October 20 and Northern will operate a reduced service. Some stations may have no Northern services or replacement bus services.