New wave of rail strikes hits Southern, Greater Anglia, Arriva Trains North and Merseyrail

Southern will be one of the four companies affected by the strike.Jonathan Brady/ PA

A new wave of rail strikes is underway across England, as workers at four different train operators began industrial action on Thursday (5 October).

RMT union members at Southern, Merseyrail, Arriva Rail North and Greater Anglia are staging a 24-hour walkout to protest against plans to make doors driver-only operated.

Up until now, guards have always operated the doors, but train companies believe allowing drivers to operate the doors would result in significant cost savings without undermining safety. Rail workers, however, dispute the argument and claim safety procedures would be compromised.

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"There is no safety issue, on Northern they haven't even set out in detail plans for how the new trains are going to work," said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

"Merseyrail have bought new trains in the wake of a safety investigation that recommended they take this approach.

"I'm afraid leading figures of the RMT have made it clear they are in a political battle with the government and the passengers are pawns, and I feel desperately sorry for the passengers."

The strikes on Merseyrail will exacerbate an already inconvenient situation, as Liverpool Lime Street station is currently closed for refurbishment. The company indicated it will run a reduced service and some stations will be closed, while Arriva Rail North has told passengers the trains that will run are likely to be "very busy" as it will operate a reduced service.

Some of the routes operated by Southern will not run, while services on others will only run at peak times.

"The RMT is striking about changes we made almost a year ago as part of our modernisation programme," said Southern's passenger services director Angie Doll.

"Nobody has lost their job over this, in fact we employ more on-board staff to help passengers than we did before, and we are providing a better service with fewer cancelled trains."

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However, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said union members were "united and determined" to carry out the strike.

"Political and public support is flooding in as our communities choose to stand by their guards against the financially and politically motivated drive to throw safety-critical staff off our trains," he said.

"Again this morning I am calling on Theresa May and Chris Grayling to call off the centrally imposed blockade on serious talks in these disputes and allow us to get on with genuine negotiations with their contractors."

Union members at South Western have also voted in favour of industrial action, but any strike has to be agreed with the executive body. However, the rail operator said it was instead planning to increase the number of guards and drivers in a bid to avoid "premature strike action".

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