31/08/2017 16:44 BST | Updated 01/09/2017 05:22 BST

Commuters Prepare For Fresh Rail Strikes Amid Driver-Only Trains Dispute

A fresh wave of rail strikes will be launched on Friday amid bitter disputes over the role of guards and driver-only trains, with the threat of industrial action also looming over the industry’s newest franchise holder.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North will walk out on Friday and Monday, while Merseyrail workers will also go on strike on Sunday.

The Southern dispute started more than 16 months ago, with the RMT taking more than 30 days of strike action.

Southern said it will run a normal service on most routes (Dominic Lipinski/PA

RMT members on the new South Western Railway franchise are to be balloted for strikes, just days after the operator took over the running of services from London Waterloo.

The union said the company, a consortium of the First Group and Hong Kong-based MTR, had failed to give assurances over the future of guards.

The RMT said it had spent months since First/MTR won the franchise from Stagecoach trying to get a “water-tight pledge” on the future of guards, claiming it had been met with a “barrage of spin and prevarication”.

Merseyrail said a reduced train service will run across its network on strike days, with trains running from around 7am to 7pm on Friday and Monday and from around 8am to 7pm on Sunday, with no trains for a few hours in the middle of the day.

Arriva Rail North said it aims to run more than 900 services on Friday and Monday, mainly between 7am and 7pm, with services on some routes finishing earlier.

Regional director Sharon Keith said: “It is disappointing that RMT has timed these two days of strike action to coincide with people returning to school, college and work after the summer holidays.”

Southern is planning to run a normal service on most of its routes.

The union is campaigning to retain guards on trains in a “safety critical” role and is opposed to any extension of driver-only operation.

General secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has given repeated opportunities for First/MTR to give us the assurances we have sought over the future role of the guards on their trains throughout the length of the new South Western franchise.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash (Nick Ansell/PA)

“They have refused to give us those guarantees and it is that failure which leaves RMT with no option but to declare a formal dispute with the company and to move towards a ballot for action.”

A South Western Railway spokesman said: “This dispute is unnecessary. We have made it perfectly clear that we plan to retain a second person on our services as we know that our passengers value the assurance and assistance a second member of on-board staff provides.”