Rail firms reject ‘bizarre’ buffet car axe protests

A leading rail union will today stage protests to fight plans it claims will lead to an “upstairs-downstairs” service on some inter city trains in Yorkshire.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union is opposing changes to rolling stock being introduced as part of the Government’s InterCity Express Programme which it says will mean buffet cars being replaced by a trolley service on the East Coast London to Edinburgh service.

But the firms who will take over the running of the East Coast rail franchise when it is privatised in March, Stagecoach and Virgin, say the protest is ‘bizarre’ as they have pledged to have a buffet car on new trains that will start service in 2018.

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Demonstrations were due to be held at 8am today at Kings Cross Station in London as well as at Cardiff Central Station, one of the bases for the Great Western Main Line which will also use the new trains made by Japanese firm Hitachi.

Mick CashMick Cash
Mick Cash

The union says it opposes proposals for “driver-only operation and the removal of buffet cars and their replacement by a trolley service only catering facility, the sacking and reducing of the safety critical operational role of train guards/conductors as well as station de-staffing and ticket office closures.”

General secretary Mick Cash said: “This Government of the rich, for the rich and by the rich now intend to introduce an upstairs-downstairs service on Britain’s long haul rail services which would condemn the vast majority to pay through the nose to travel in rammed-out carriages where the catering trolley is jammed at one end while the elite glide through the country like extras from Downton Abbey.

“RMT believes that all rail users deserve a high quality service and that means employing the staff to deliver that rather than cutting corners to maximise profits and targeting what’s left at the rich.”

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Hitachi’s Class 800 series trains are scheduled to be in operation from 2017 on the Great Western Main Line and from 2018 on the East Coast Main Line.

According to the Government, the new trains will bring faster services and additional capacity to the line between London, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

As well as building a new assembly base in the UK, Hitachi is constructing maintenance depots in Bristol, Swansea, west London and Doncaster.

A spokeswoman for Stagecoach-Virgin, whose joint venture Inter City Railways will run the East Coast franchise from 2015, said: “The RMT’s planned protest is bizarre. We confirmed some time ago that it is our clear intention to have a buffet car on the new trains.

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“While the trains do not enter service until 2018, we are already in discussions with the rolling stock provider Hitachi regarding the internal configuration and specification required to deliver the buffet car. Some of our most exciting plans involve the on-board catering offer, where we will have at-seat food ordering and hot food available to passengers in standard class.

“We have had a very positive response from customers and local communities to our plans for the franchise.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said fixed kitchens and trolley facilities were included in the base design of the trains. He added: “There is scope to introduce buffet facilities if the new franchisee wants to offer this facility to its passengers.”