Rail strikes: Five rail operators hit by RMT walkout

Passengers get onto an Greater Anglia service train Image copyright Maria Compadre
Image caption Passengers queue to get on to a Greater Anglia service train

Five rail operators have experienced disruption due to strike action by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union.

Workers on Southern, Greater Anglia and South Western Railway are striking for 48 hours, while staff on Merseyrail and Northern walked out for 24 hours.

The union is in dispute over driver-only operated (DOO) trains, also known as driver-controlled operated (DCO).

Aslef, which has also been in dispute with Southern, announced on Wednesday that train drivers had accepted a deal.

It means there will be a second safety-trained person on every DOO train, except in exceptional circumstances, gives drivers a five-year pay deal worth 28.5%, and confirms the terms and conditions under which members are employed.

The executive committee of the train drivers' union had recommended its members accept the deal, which has no impact on the RMT's continuing industrial action.

The RMT described Aslef's deal with Southern as "shoddy".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Commuters ride a crowded South Western Railway train on the Portsmouth to London line

Members of the RMT union, who are mostly conductors, have held a series of strikes on Southern since April 2016 amid concerns over safety and job losses.

Changes were introduced on Southern in January making conductors "on-board supervisors" and passing responsibility for closing doors to drivers.

Industrial action by RMT members has only recently spread to other routes across England.

Southern had said services on most of its routes would operate normally during the 48-hour strike although there would be some alterations.

However, signalling problems exacerbated changes and led to delays and cancellations during people's commute on Wednesday morning.

There were also delays due to trespassers on the line between East Croyden and Clapham and lines between Worthing and Bright were blocked during the evening after a person was hit by a train.

Greater Anglia had said it would run a full service during the industrial action, using other trained staff in place of conductors.

Its plan was approved on Tuesday by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), which criticised the company's contingency arrangements during a strike last month following an incident in which the doors on the wrong side of a train were opened at Ipswich station.

A spokeswoman said only "a handful" of services had been disrupted due to the strike.

South Western Railway (SWR), which only took over the franchise from South West Trains in August, cancelled about 40% of its services. It published a contingency timetable including replacement buses on some routes.

However, the RMT has voiced its concerns about the various plans.

General Secretary Mick Cash said: "The only way that Greater Anglia can be running these services is through taking serious risks with public safety just as they did during the last phase of strike action.

"Rail companies are training up rail staff who have previously had no rail operational experience to stand in as highly trained guards.

"In some cases staff are being bussed in by other train companies not involved in the dispute, paid a bounty and put up overnight in hotels."

Image caption The RMT union is in dispute over driver-only operated trains, also known as driver-controlled operated trains

But Richard Dean, Greater Anglia's train service delivery director, stressed that the ORR was satisfied with its arrangements, and that an independent rail safety expert had concluded that its stand-in conductor training was "industry best practice".

"We will never compromise the safety of our customers," Mr Dean added.

Merseyrail ran a reduced train service across its network during the 24-hour strike, while Northern ran its lessened service, mostly between 07:00 and 19:00 GMT.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: "This dispute is not about jobs or safety - employees have been guaranteed jobs and salaries. In fact at Southern Rail, where these changes have already been introduced, there are now more staff on trains.

"The independent rail regulator has said driver-controlled trains, which have been used in this country for more than 30 years, are safe."

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