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Virgin and RMT war of words continues over Cumbria stations

The RMT union has attacked Virgin Trains for celebrating the increase in passenger satisfaction levels at Carlisle and Penrith stations even while they are closed more regularly.

The union blamed under-staffing, and gave the specific example of last Sunday night, when it says Penrith ticket office was closed from after 5pm when it should have been open until 9pm.

Its general secretary Bob Crow said: “The unscheduled closure comes just days after Virgin Trains’ press statement of 21 November which did not answer why the ticket office at Penrith is closed on numerous occasions, when it is advertised to be open. RMT has been raising the staffing issues at Penrith and also Carlisle with Virgin for months. These issues are not answered in last week’s press statement, which praises staff but attacks the union that they are members of.

“When a reorganisation of Virgin Trains at Carlisle station reduced staffing levels to four people RMT strongly opposed those reductions and warned that there would be a detrimental effect on service. This has proven to be the case.

“It is arrogant in the extreme for Virgin to use our members’ hard work and excellent passenger service – as evidenced in the passenger focus report that their press release refers to – as an endorsement of their staff cuts.”

Virgin had already said the RMT was guilty of a “misleading and unwarranted attack”.

The specific figures given by Virgin refer to Carlisle, where overall passenger satisfaction rose from 83% in spring 2012 to 96% in spring 2013, including satisfaction with ticket buying facilities at 100%, and satisfaction with ‘availability of staff’ up from 79% to 90%.

The small sample size at Penrith meant no 2013 figures were available.

Virgin’s Sue Howarth, group station manager for North England and Scotland, said on 21 November: “This is a massive vote of confidence by the travelling public in the service we provide and I can’t thank our staff enough for the effort they’ve put in to achieve this. This latest attack by the RMT is misleading, unwarranted and does nothing to recognise the extraordinary level of service that our staff deliver.

“There have been some isolated instances of the Penrith ticket office opening late or closing early but this has been blown out of all proportion by the RMT, who appear to have completely ignored what our passengers are saying.”

Referring to Sunday’s night closure at Penrith, a spokesman for Virgin Trains said: “Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to operate the ticket office as planned.”

(Picture of Penrith station copyright macspite, used here under a Creative Commons licence)

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