Rail walk-out causes misery for commuters

MORE travel misery has hit Christmas commuters with a walk-out by rail staff.

MORE travel misery has hit Christmas commuters with a walk-out by rail staff.

Only around 20% of Northern Rail’s services were operating yesterday as a result of industrial action by rail union RMT.

The revised timetable is in place again today with the conductors’ strike continuing until midnight.

RMT called the strike after a row with Northern Rail over rates of pay for the public holidays created by Christmas falling at the weekend.

More than 1,000 train conductors across the country are expected to leave their posts during the two-day action.

It means the operator has been forced to reduce from 2,500 trains a day to just 550, with only 40% of the network operational.

But Northern Rail said more services than anticipated were able to run after some conductors still turned in.

The disruptions sparked major problems for shoppers racing to the sales in a bid to beat the VAT rise.

Trains between Newcastle and the Metrocentre were scaled back to just 18 trains to ferry bargain-hungry shoppers between the two destinations.

The last train from Newcastle left at 4.54pm yesterday, and from Metrocentre at 6.13pm. The same timetable is expected to run today.

Northern Rail said services between Newcastle and Morpeth had escaped largely unscathed.

But trains between Carlisle and Hexham were hit hard with just six running throughout the day.

Elsewhere in the country, trains between Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Leeds were not running. Routes between Carlisle, Sheffield and York have also been affected.

RMT said the pay for bank holidays had been agreed with the union several years ago, after conductors traded double pay for other benefits including increased salaries and extra annual leave.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said: “The spirit of old Scrooge is alive and well on Northern Rail and our conductor members have shown in this ballot that they will not be treated as second-class citizens this Christmas.

“There is no agreement in place from Northern Rail for the additional public holidays that everyone else will be benefiting from this year.

“You only have to look at the sporting calendar to see that these days are full-on public holidays everywhere other than in the minds of the senior management at Northern Rail.”

Mr Crow said Northern Rail had made £85m in profits in the past four years.

Ian Bevan, managing director of Northern Rail, said: “We are very disappointed that the RMT is going ahead with strike action when only 361 of 976 conductors voted for a strike.

“We have said all along that we will honour the existing agreements that we have with the trade union, and we are always willing to hold further talks.

“Our priority now is to ensure that our passengers have all the information they need to make an informed decision about their travel plans. We are running as many services as we can and these are concentrated on routes that are not covered by other operators.”

Northern said passengers can find timetable information on www.northern rail.org or staffed stations.

Joanne Butcher


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer