by Steve Sweeney and Peter Lazenby
THREE privateer rail operators were hit yesterday by one of the biggest waves of strike action since the industry was privatised.
Southern Rail workers walked out for 24 hours, continuing their long-running rejection of driver-only operations, which they say jeopardise the safety of passengers.
The row has now spread to Arriva Rail North and Merseyrail in Liverpool where members of transport union RMT walked out.
And train drivers refused to cross picket lines set up by other workers, causing worse disruption than expected.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said that “in the teeth of a relentless campaign of spin and intimidation” the action holds firm in the dispute with Southern that has lasted almost a year.
He praised the “courage and resilience” of RMT members saying: “They are a credit to their local communities and to the entire trade union movement.”
The union is also considering legal action over the failure of the Office of Rail Regulation to protect the rights of disabled passengers on Southern by not properly assessing the impact of removing the guard.
Mr Cash said: “It is obviously the case that if a disabled passenger once had the guarantee of a guard on their service and that guarantee is withdrawn then the disabled passenger has been disadvantaged.
“Far from being about modernisation, driver-only trains turn the clock back on the rights of disabled and older passengers.”
Arriva North serves major towns and cities including Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield. RMT members at Merseyrail face introduction of a new fleet of 52 new driver-only trains.
Merseyrail guards have been involved in saving passengers from life-threatening incidents in the last year, including a train collision with a car and a derailment.
Merseyrail attempted to stop the strike through legal action, but the bid was rejected by the High Court.
Mr Cash described the industrial action at Arriva as “rock solid” and said the action could have been avoided if Arriva hadn’t back-pedalled from earlier pledges to retain the guard.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “These strikes are unnecessary. The RMT should return to talks and help deliver the high-quality rail services that passengers deserve.”
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