New Year’s Eve rail travel is set to be disrupted because of fresh strikes in long-running disputes over the role of guards on trains and other issues.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union on South Western Railway (SWR) and CrossCountry will walk out for 24 hours on Sunday, causing delays and cancellations.
The union is planning more strikes in January against SWR, Southern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia and Arriva Rail North in the bitter row over guards.
The CrossCountry dispute is over rosters and Sunday working. The SWR strike will disrupt services to and from London Waterloo, the busiest railway station in the country.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It’s the continuing failure of the train companies and their political puppet masters in Government to make any attempt whatsoever to resolve the range of separate disputes over rail safety that has led us to call this further action on South Western railway and the responsibility for the disruption that will be caused lays fairly and squarely at their door.
“There is chaos and confusion in the rail industry surrounding the Government’s position which makes it almost impossible to negotiate and I have written again to Chris Grayling (Transport Secretary) to express my concern at this lack of clarity and contradictory messages but also to offer further talks not least on the vital issue of accessibility.
“It really should be straight forward - the Scottish and Welsh Governments have agreed to keep the guards on our trains so there is no reason why the UK government and the UK based operators cannot do the same.
“We should be allowed a clear opportunity to negotiate a deal with South Western Railway that underpins the guard guarantee.”
Andy Mellors, SWR Managing Director, added: “The RMT executive knows we plan to keep a guard on all our trains to assist passengers.
“What we want to discuss with them is what happens when a guard is unavailable at short notice so that our passengers aren’t left stranded. We have given them repeated reassurances that we will need more guards as we introduce new and longer trains.
“All our passengers want to do is to travel to be with their friends and loved ones for the New Year celebrations.
“We have now put contingency plans in place to keep passengers moving and will run around three-quarters of our normal train service.”
A spokesman for CrossCountry said: “Despite three days of talks before Christmas, supported by the conciliation service Acas, we have been unable to reach an end to the RMT union’s dispute.
“Once again we urge the RMT to call off the strike scheduled for New Year’s Eve, and to put the offer we made some time ago, which would see their hourly Sunday overtime rate increase by 48%, to a vote by its members.
“If the RMT do not call off the strike then we will do everything we can to help our customers complete their journeys.
“Full details of the services we are able to operate can be found on our website, along with information on alternative travel arrangements using other train operators’ services and how customers can obtain refunds if they do not travel.”
Mr Cash said of the CrossCountry dispute: “It is the company’s ineptitude and arrogance that has forced us to take this further round of action which we know will lead to major disruption. Our members are standing up for the principles of a decent work life balance and against the abuse of rostering and Sunday working by a management that is out of control.
“We have no doubt the action will be rock solid again across the franchise from Penzance to Aberdeen and the disruption to services that results will be solely down to management’s intransigence.”
Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “It is disgraceful that the RMT is seeking to cause misery to paying customers trying to get home to family and friends for the new year. Rail companies are working hard to keep passengers moving, and plan to run the majority of services, but we call on the RMT to show some decency and call off these strikes.”