Railways union the RMT have warned it could strike if East Coast scraps train buffet cars to make way for more seats.
When new Hitachi trains, which are being assembled in County Durham, are introduced it is possible that they could be run on a “driver only” basis – meaning no guards, and no catering staff or car.
The current train operator has moved to allay any fears, saying it has no plans to cut staff or services, though a new operator is set to take over the line in a re-privatising process.
“It defies belief that anyone in their right mind would seriously consider running these inter-city services on a driver-only basis but the design of the fleet allows for just that in terms of the control panels,” said the union’s acting general secretary Mick Cash.
“RMT has made it perfectly clear that we are opposed to the extension of driver only on any rail services and with fights already in hand on the northern franchises and Thameslink/Southern we are now hard-wiring East Coast and First Great Western into that campaign.“It is sheer profiteering to strip out the buffet cars and replace them with trolleys. Not only does that undermine the service to passengers but it also denies staff their one place of refuge and rest on these long-range routes.“RMT is also deeply concerned about the future of the fleet maintenance which is once again plunged into uncertainty with our members jobs and futures left in the balance. That is wholly unacceptable and RMT will not allow the maintenance grades to be cast adrift.“RMT is demanding answers and assurances from both the Government and the train companies. If those assurances aren’t forthcoming we will move into dispute and begin preparations for ballots.
“We have no intention of allowing this situation to drift.”
The RMT has written to the Government demanding that guards and buffet cars be retained on all inter-city services, with all train maintenance retained in-house.
An East Coast spokesman said it has no intention of getting rid of guards - though the maintenance and buffet car issues are matters for whichever company takes over the franchise when it is re-privatised.
“East Coast has no plans to dispense with the services of the guard whilst it remains the franchise operator, but any decision relating to the introduction of Intercity Express Programme services will be a matter for the new operator to determine,” he said.
“Each new train will have a dedicated trolley storage point to facilitate the delivery of refreshments, including hot drinks, to customers travelling in Standard Class accommodation.
“There also remains some flexibility in the final train design for a fixed catering point to be fitted, should the future new franchisee of East Coast choose to do this.
“A dedicated kitchen is also being provided on the new trains, which will allow for an at-seat catering service if that is what the new franchisee chooses to provide as part of their customer offer.”