DAYS after they swallowed the biggest fare rise for five years, rail commuters across Yorkshire awoke yesterday to a week of cancellations and crushes as staff staged the first of three 24-hour walk-outs in a continuing dispute over the roles of guards.
Northern Rail said it was running around 1,350 services – more than half its usual timetable – with a similar service planned for tomorrow and Friday.
But the strike meant that many rush hour and evening services did not operate yesterday, leaving standing room only on those that remained.
The government has insisted that no jobs are under threat from plans to give drivers, rather than conductors, responsibility for opening and closing train doors.
Northern is one of five companies affected by this week’s strikes by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT). Picket lines were mounted outside stations across the country, while the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, was urged to convene a summit meeting to try to break the deadlock.
Mr Grayling’s department described the dispute with Northern as one “between a private company and the RMT”, but added: “The Transport Secretary recognises the disruption caused to passengers and has met with union leaders to help bring an end to the strikes.
“He offered guarantees of employment to members who currently fulfil the role of the second person on the train. Instead the RMT called strikes on five train companies to cause maximum disruption to passengers.
“Nobody is losing their job as a result of driver-controlled operation trains – employees have been guaranteed jobs and salaries for several years.”
Northern’s deputy managing director, Richard Allan, said the company was “committed to investing in new and updated trains, better stations and faster journeys”. The improvements have been mandated on the company as part of its franchise.
At South Western Rail, which faced its 39th RMT strike yesterday, managing director Andy Mellors said: “We have repeatedly guaranteed that no-one will lose their job and that we will roster a second person on board every train.”
The union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, said his members remained “solid and united” and that he had written to ask Mr Grayling to appoint an independent chairman to oversee summit talks.
Northern is running half-hourly morning rush-hour services on lines to Harrogate and Ilkley on strike days , with some trains running in the evenings.