England

Rail strikes: Train workers at five firms walkout in safety row

Commuters on a crowded train Image copyright PA
Image caption Commuters packed onto a South Western Railway train on the Portsmouth to London Waterloo line.

Commuters are facing up to three days of disruption, as staff at five train firms begin a fresh wave of strikes in separate disputes over "rail safety".

Rail, Maritime and Transport union members at Northern, Merseyrail, South Western Railway and Greater Anglia are striking today, Wednesday and Friday.

RMT members at Southern are also staging a 24-hour walkout.

A Department for Transport spokesman said the five franchises would "keep passengers moving" during the strikes.

The 24-hour walkouts were called over separate disputes, all concerning rail safety, the RMT said.

It said the disputes were over issues including the role of train guards and the extension of driver-only services.

Strikes on each of the affected days will run from 00.01 until 23.59 GMT.

Image caption Northern rail workers were picketing outside Carlisle train station

All of the affected firms have said they will be running services during the strikes:

  • Northern, which runs trains in north west and north east England, said it will run around 1,350 trains on strike days - about 60% of its normal service
  • South Western Railway (SWR), which operates out of stations including London Waterloo, Reading, Exeter and Southampton, plans to run about 70% of its normal service
  • Merseyrail said it will run a reduced service on its lines in and around Liverpool, mostly between 07:00 and 19:00 GMT, but with a break during the middle of the day
  • Southern said it planned to run a normal service on most of its routes across south England, but advised passengers to check for any last-minute changes
  • Greater Anglia said it planned to run a normal service with no alterations.

The Isle of Wight's Island Line - run by SWR - will also operate hourly on Monday and Friday, with buses replacing services on Wednesday.

BBC Breakfast presenter Victoria Fritz tweeted from a quiet platform in Basingstoke, which is operated by South Western Railway, that most commuters have found alternative modes of transport.

Daniel McCormack from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, admired the view from the platform at Sandal and Agbrigg station while he waited for his delayed train.

Jeffries Craig from Hedge End, Southampton, tweeted South Western Rail passengers were "face to face without access to a handrail" and did not feel safe.

Commuters on the 07:00 Southampton to London Waterloo service told the BBC it was "quieter than normal".

BBC Surrey's Peter Stewart was at Camberley train station where platforms were "deserted" and there was "no business for the man running the coffee shop on the station concourse".

RMT general secretary Mick Cash has written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling calling for a summit with the Department for Transport and the train companies.

He said agreements had been reached in Scotland and Wales to keep guards on new modern trains.

"With goodwill on all sides we can reach an agreement in England as well," he added.

Image caption The South Western Railway strike has led to delays and cancellations at Basingstoke train station

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady urged the government to respond "positively" to the proposal.

The Department for Transport said the row was not about safety, adding that "no one is losing their job".

"Employees have been guaranteed jobs and salaries for several years," the spokesman said.

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

He added: "Despite the best efforts of the RMT to cause misery for passengers, the train companies will keep passengers moving with the majority of services running as planned."

It comes as Prime Minister Theresa May defended the latest train fare increases - of 3.4% - insisting rail investment was needed.

Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, she said: "A lot of people rely on our railways - we want to see good service on our railways but that does mean that investment is needed."

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