Strike action by up to 2,000 rail firm workers threatens serious disruption

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Up to 2,000 workers at three rail companies will go on strike on Monday in separate disputes over staffing, threatening some of the worst disruption since the industry was privatised.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Southern Railway, Merseyrail and Arriva Trains North will walk out for 24 hours in a growing row over the role of conductors.

More than half of services on Merseyrail and Arriva will be cancelled, while Southern said it aimed to run most of its 2,200 trains.

The RMT revealed it was considering legal options over "failure" of the Office of Rail Regulation to protect the rights of disabled passengers on Southern.

Officials said their concerns arise from reports from members and passengers that disabled passengers on Southern are being treated less favourably than other passengers as a result of the company's decision to end the guarantee of a guard on new driver only services.

The union said the ORR has not made a completed assessment of the effects on disabled passengers of removing the guarantee of a guard prior to Southern implementing its changes at the start of the year.

General secretary Mick 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the case that if a disabled passenger once had the guarantee of a guard on their service and that guarantee is withdrawn then the disabled passenger has been disadvantaged.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 turns the clock back on the rights of disabled and older passengers.

"We will now be consulting our legal team on further options but in the meantime are calling on the ORR as the disabled access regulator to make public their views on whether Southern are meeting their obligations to disabled passengers."

Mr Cash said up to a quarter of fare revenue on Merseyrail was being used to pay for dividends of around £14 million a year.

"That is frankly obscene under any circumstances but the fact that around £14 million a year is being allowed to leak out of Merseyrail while at the same time senior Liverpool politicians are pleading poverty as an excuse to get rid of guards will be utterly unacceptable for passengers and council tax payers.

"As Merseyrail is part-owned by the Dutch state railway it is a case of Merseyside 0 Holland £14 million."

Northern said it will be running around 40% of its services, 980 trains, between 7am and 7pm.

"Our modernisation proposals are still in the early stages so it is disappointing that RMT is taking strike action.

"There is lots of time to talk and agree how we modernise the way we provide customer service.

"As part of our proposals we are prepared to offer guarantees on jobs and pay to our people," said a spokesman.

Merseyrail failed to obtain a court injunction last week to stop the strike and then offered talks.

Angie Doll, Southern's passenger services director, said: "We have shown that we can now run almost all our services during an RMT strike.

"Our on-board supervisors are now established in their roles and passengers are beginning to see the benefits of having someone whose sole job is customer service."

RMT members are taking their 30th day of strike action, in a dispute which started almost a year ago and is the longest running in the transport industry.

Picket lines will be mounted outside stations in one of the biggest days of industrial action since rail privatisation in the mid 1990s.

David Sidebottom, director of the independent watchdog, Transport Focus, said: "These industrial relations problems are being dumped on passengers who may have to cancel plans or endure miserable journeys. It is crucial that all parties have discussions to resolve this matter without bringing the railway to a standstill."

A Southern spokesman said: "What the RMT want is to see trains cancelled if the on-board supervisor is not available. That would disadvantage everyone, including the disabled.

"There are more staff on trains who are now more focused on assisting passengers than ever.

"We are committed to making our services more accessible and have a clear system in place to help disabled passengers and those with restricted mobility make and complete their journey, safely and on time."

An Office of Rail and Road spokesman said: "ORR monitors train companies to determine whether their policies and procedures are compliant with ?their obligations.

"We are also carrying out research to understand better the experience of passengers that pre-book passenger assistance and those that receive assistance without booking.?

"We work with industry and passenger groups to improve the service all passengers receive, this includes taking enforcement action where we consider it is in passengers' best interests."