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Passengers brace for September chaos as RMT announces third triple strike

The RMT’s ongoing saga with Southern, Merseyrail and Northern has marched on this week as strikes on all three TOCs were announced to take place at the start of September.

On Southern and Northern, members of the union will strike for two days (Friday 1 September and Monday 4 September), whilst Merseyrail passengers can look forward to one extra day of disrupted travel on top of these two dates, on Sunday 3 September.

The dispute revolves around the roll out of driver-only operated (DOO) trains, something which the union says will compromise passenger safety.

These new strikes come only weeks after RMT’s last triple strike, and also follow the union threatening to extend the DOO dispute to a fourth operator, Greater Anglia.

Unsurprisingly, leaders of the three TOCs have again accused the union of cynically taking advantage of a busy time of year, as Alan Chaplin, acting managing director of Northern, said that the strikes had been deliberately timed to coincide with children returning to school. 

“There is no doubt that the trade union calling two days of strikes on Friday 1 and Monday 4 September, will damage the region’s economy, significantly disrupt our customers’ lives, and impact local businesses,” he argued.

Another gripe that has been raised a number of times by the union is that the guard’s job could be cut following DOO roll out, but Chaplin went on to state that this was not the case.

“Northern is prepared to guarantee jobs and current pay for all our conductors for the next eight years, until the end of our franchise,” he continued. “Our offers to discuss every detail on the future responsibilities and training for on-board colleagues have been rejected by RMT.

“Northern is modernising with new and updated trains, faster and more frequent services, and better stations from now until 2020. We want to make changes to the on-board colleague role to make it fit for the future, better supporting customers on trains and at stations.

Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, Merseyrail's managing director, simply stated: “The RMT say this dispute is about safety. 

“But a recent industry report (RSSB, Risk associated with train dispatch, July 2017) states that: ‘there is no additional risk for passengers boarding and alighting *DCO/DOO trains, and indeed that trains without a guard actually appear to lower overall dispatch related safety risk to passengers.”

A spokesperson for Southern also stated: "We are disappointed by this unnecessary action and the RMT's refusal to engage with us in modernising the railway. We deeply regret any inconvenience this action will cause our passengers and we will make every attempt to minimise disruption.

 "Modernisation is urgently required to future-proof and increase capacity on the busiest parts of the UK railway."

And Gary Cooper, director of planning, engineering and operations at the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), also rued the RMT’s decision to call yet more strikes.

“What passengers, the country and our people need is one railway, united, coming together to deliver a bigger and better railway in the long-term, not needless and opportunistic strikes as people return to school and work after the holidays,” he commented.

“Train companies remain committed to keeping Britain’s passengers moving and supporting the economy whilst the union leadership is playing politics with a vital national asset. The RMT leadership should to call off their action and get back around the table.”

RMT: TOCs being intransigent, pig-headed and hostile

But the RMT sent a strongly worded response to the TOCs, as Mick Cash, general secretary of the union, told Northern that the public will be appalled that Arriva Rail North had failed to offer any kind of progress in the talks, adding that the operator had “bulldozed” through any potential resolution.

“Yet again this morning we have been confronted with the sheer intransigence of Arriva Rail North and that means that we have no option but to confirm a further round of strike action,” he said.

“It is that flagrant disregard for the safety issues at the heart of the dispute which leaves us with no option but to press on with the campaign of strike action.”

And speaking about Merseyrail, Cash said rail bosses had taken a “cynical and hostile” stance which had left the union with no option but to press ahead with three days of strikes.

“RMT recognises the severe impact that the action will have but we are dealing with an employer that refuses to listen or engage with the union on the critical issue of safe rail operation and we ask the public to understand that we have no option but to take this high-profile action to force the company back to the negotiating table,” Cash reassured passengers.

“Merseyrail are completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers, who overwhelmingly oppose the idea of DOO trains on their network.

“That pig-headed attitude has forced the union’s hand and the idea that we would compromise on the fundamental issue of rail safety is absurd. The ball remains firmly in Merseyrail’s court.”

And on Southern, Cash said he was “bitterly disappointed” the TOC had rejected a call for round table discussions with an interest in resolving the dispute.

“The failure to get those talks moving following our face to face meeting with transport secretary Chris Grayling has left us no option but to call further action,” he concluded.

Top Image: Victoria Jones PA Wire

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Neil Palmer   22/08/2017 at 02:39

Isn't it time for those TOC's to bite the bullet and lock out RMT members until this ends once and for all? If they don't want to do the job fire them all. Ronald Reagan did it with air traffic controllers, and they were far more "safety critical" than someone hiding in the rear cab reading a newspaper.

Merseyferry   22/08/2017 at 12:24

In response to Neil Palmer 22/08/2017, it is clear that his comments abusing the train guards is typical of someone who has not travelled on a train where incidents have occured, people being trapped in doors, especially disabled people, passengers being abused, or stuck in a toilet that a TOC has failed to maintain properly or the simple assistance to elderly passenger not being able to get there luggage secured away before the train sets off. The guards and conductors do this, not the distant porters or the train drivers who have responsibility to drive the trains. Its about time the TOC and ministers looked at the DOO themselves and other seriously safety issues like faulty brakes and doors that TOC have no money to spend on maintenance. The future of our trains and service is very important and SAFETY is more paramount. I know I have been in the railway industry for 47 years and have never seen so many safety issue cut backs as I have seen in the last five years. Neil Palmer you should be ashamed of your remarks about the guards.

M.T.Cicero   22/08/2017 at 13:22

Merseyferry, that's all very well with your 'safety critical guard', who in fact would still be there to ensure 'safety' as an On Board Supervisor. However, many of the Southern trains have never run with a guard so your politically angled 'cut backs of the last 5 years' comment is hollow considering Caterham, Epsom Corner and Tattenham Corner trains have run without guards for decades with class 455's. The point only stands with the longer 10-12 coach trains, which should not be DOO. GTR drivers (with Union agreement!) already drive the new Thameslink 8 car DOO trains anyway. The problem is more that between a toxic franchise of GTR and militant selfish Union action (RMT using the disabled as a crutch for there agenda is disgusting) all objectivity has been lost. No side from the DfT, GTR, ASLEF or the RMT are correct or have passengers interests at heart in the Southern dispute, and dealing in absolutes like you will never solve it.

Ken Cropley   22/08/2017 at 13:34

What I don't understand about the RMT attitude is why is it apparently safe to run DOO trains on some routes but not others? I regularly use both London to Southend routes which have been DOO for many years and have 12 car trains at peak times. I believe some Thameslink services are also DOO. I have travelled on many double manned routes where I have never seen the conductor or had any annoucements as to where they might be located. Ticket checks are also often non existant.

John Grant   22/08/2017 at 14:36

GN (KGX to King's Lynn, also part of the GTR franchise) have been driver-only (no second crew member, apart from a very occasional ticket-collector) for ages, and south of Cambridge are 12-car at peak times.

BB   22/08/2017 at 15:23

@ M.T.Cicero ASLEF have some justification as their driver members could be legally liable if passengers are injured during door opening/closing. They have made a reasonable case in the past for equipment upgrades and other assistance on long platforms I believe. Southern have also offered them liability waivers from incidents when the driver is not negligent. Their executive has also refused to just follow the RMT negotiating line of saying NO then following up with NO. RMT are simply selfish protectionists. Providing decent accessibility for disabled passengers across the network is a difficult balancing act but I agree that RMT are being cynical in their support.

H. Trevor Jones   22/08/2017 at 17:25

How about the norm being that you do have a second man on a train, to be actively involved in revenue protection when no operating duties to do, and to be always accessible to passengers, BUT that you don't HAVE to all the time, so allowing a train to run instead of being cancelled if the 2nd man has just fallen ill or is stuck on a delayed preceding train, and also allowing the running of otherwise economically unviable trains at times of light loading (and when few disabled travellers are likely)? A train running without a 2nd man should be so announced at each station, giving anyone worried about it the chance to wait for the next train. It would be interesting to see how many passengers choose to wait!

Jerry Alderson   22/08/2017 at 18:34

It can be effective to play the 'safety card' before staff role changes are implemented but once they are and if no safety issues occur then the argument loses much of its credibility. Of course, there will be once in a blue moon incidents that but even then it's a case of attributing the cause if an incident such as 'trap and drag' occurs on a DCO train then the fault will in most cases lie with a technical cause (such as poor visibility on in-cab screens). I have just returned from a weekend in Berlin where then entire local rail-based transport system (commuter heavy rail, U-Bahn and trams) was 100% DCO. The system worked like clockwork. Frequent and incredibly efficient services that ran to time. In July I went to Amsterdam for the weekend. Again 100% DCO. Again very frequent and efficient services that were on time. My experiences during my three years in Vienna were the same - again 100% DCO on local transport. In Brussels the metro and trams are 100% DCO, but the trains are not. Punctuality on the trains is poor, but the issues at bottlenecks on the network not (necessarily) the inefficiency of the job-sharing of the operational role. Incidentally, on the staff bus back from work tonight one of my female colleagues was left in a distressed state when the DCO bus drove off before she had sat down. Not expecting it to move she was not holding onto anything, was sent flying and landed on her back in the aisle.

Jerry Alderson   22/08/2017 at 18:47

I perhaps ought to clarify my previous comments. On the Amsterdam trams many were DCO+1 with a person in a kind of kiosk next to the centre door selling tickets. I didn't see that second person performing any operational role (they never left their kiosk) and were focused on revenue. The other European examples I gave were all DCO+0.

SWB   22/08/2017 at 19:23

I completely agree with Mr. Palmer's comments above. It's past time for Parliament to enact a UK version of the US's Taft-Hartley Act that would give the Prime Minister the power to suspend strikes for a coolinf-off period and then require the TOC's and the unions to submit to binding arbitration by a neutral 3rd party. The safety issue is a cynical ruse by RMT in a (hopefully) vain attempt to return to the pre-privatisation days on the railways. Most customers are not as stupid ad RMT believe, and can see that the union isn't truly interested in the customers, only in enlarging the union membership and their own power base.

BB   22/08/2017 at 21:20

@ H. Trevor Jones You correctly describe the current sticking point in the RMT-Southern negotiations (as I understand it anyway). They want all the trains with two staff on board to always run with two staff on board for ever and ever amen. If a second member of staff is not available the train will be cancelled - there are no circumstances when this rule will be broken. Southern want a list of clearly defined circumstances (like the ones you describe) where the trains can run with one member of staff. RMT think this is the thin end of the wedge in terms of eventually removing staff from trains. These conditions were in place and working in the first half of this year.

Neil Palmer   23/08/2017 at 02:42

BB - exactly the point, London Victoria, evening rush hour, several hundred people crammed aboard a train about to depart. The Guard/On Board Supervisor is delayed on an inbound service. What do you do? Any reasonably sane person would make an announcement that the train will be running without a second staff member aboard and run the train as DOO. I seriously doubt anyone would want to get off and wait for the next train (considering they would have managed to board the train without any assistance from a second member of staff in the first place) but they have the opportunity to do so. As "reasonably sane" does not appear to describe Mick "all we really want is more" Cash and his fellow Luddites in the Radical Marxist Trotskyite union you make an announcement that the service is cancelled, kick several hundred people of a perfectly serviceable train into an already crowed Victoria (plenty of opportunity for trips, falls & injuries there), and drive the train off anyway with no one aboard but the driver. It's about time parliament passed legislation to end this nonsense. The RMT are holding millions of people to ransom for their own selfish purposes. "All about safety" my a**e. Anyone can see through that lie.

John Grant   23/08/2017 at 14:00

"make an announcement that the train will be running without a second staff member" -- those of us north of the river assume that'll be the case anyway

David Smith   24/08/2017 at 11:13

Striking over trains yet to be built seems to be the height of folly. The Southern people seem to be ignoring the strike in droves so perhaps the cold breeze of reality will blow through the RMT eventually.

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