Rail workers to stage 24-hour strike on Grand National day

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Workers at three rail operators are to stage a fresh 24-hour strike on the day of the Grand National in bitter disputes over staffing and the role of conductors.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva Trains North will walk out on April 8, causing fresh travel misery for hundreds of thousands of passengers.

Many people travel to the Grand National at Aintree in Liverpool by train, so any disruption to Merseyrail services will hit those going to the biggest race in the world.

The RMT also announced that a planned strike on Southern - owned by Govia Thameslink Railway - on April 4 had been moved to the 8th after the company offered fresh talks if the industrial action was suspended.

General secretary Mick Cash said: "RMT members on Southern Rail have been fighting for safety and access to rail services for nearly a year now and it is time for the company to get out of the bunker and to start making some progress.

"There is no reason for Southern/GTR to drag their heels and RMT is prepared to meet on the 4th of April as they have requested. We now have plenty of breathing space to get talks under way and we would urge the company to seize the opportunity that our decision today has opened up for both parties and the union would prefer for the talks to happen sooner rather than later.

"RMT guards and driver members on Southern have shown incredible strength and resilience throughout the past year and have been clear from the off that this is not a dispute about 'who opens the doors' - it is a dispute about a safe method of operation and about the guarantee of that crucial, second safety-critical member of staff on Southern services.

"It is time for that fundamental issue to be addressed at the negotiating table.

"If Southern are prepared to agree to talks on April 4, or sooner, with meaningful proposals on the table that address the issues at the heart of the dispute, the union's executive would be in a position to consider the suspension of the current planned action."

A strengthened train service often runs on Aintree Race days and a special timetable is put in place for the annual three-day Grand National festival.

Aintree station is across the road from Aintree Racecourse.

RMT members at the three companies staged a 24-hour strike last week, causing most disruption at Merseyrail after drivers refused to cross picket lines.

Talks between the company and the union broke down yesterday, with little sign of any progress in a row over plans to introduce new, driver-only trains, in 2020.

Mick Cash said: "It is disgraceful that Merseyrail wrecked a golden opportunity to engage in serious talks with the union.

"RMT reps set out key points for discussion that could have moved the dispute forwards, Merseyrail kicked that conciliatory approach back in our faces and made it crystal clear that all that they are interested in is the union signing a surrender document which gives them a free hand to rip apart the safety culture on the railway.

"It is that cynical and hostile stance from Merseyrail which has left us with no option but to put on this additional strike action.

"RMT recognises the severe impact that the action will have on Grand National Day but we are dealing with an employer that refuses to listen or engage with the union on the critical issue of safe rail operation and we ask the public to understand that we have no option but to take this high-profile action to force the company back to the negotiating table. 

"Merseyrail are completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers, who overwhelmingly oppose the idea of Driver Only Operated trains on their network.

"That pig-headed attitude has forced the union's hand and the idea that we would compromise on the fundamental issue of rail safety is absurd."

The Arriva dispute is over similar plans for driver-only operated new trains.

Mr Cash said: "The continuing refusal of the company to give a simple, lasting guarantee that protects the safety-critical role of the guard on their trains leaves RMT with no option but to announce this further day of strike action.

"This dispute, and the industrial action we have announced today, were entirely preventable if the company had listened to the union's deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously, stuck to their earlier commitments and had put passenger safety before profit.

"The company's intransigence has forced our hand and given us to option but to announce this latest phase of industrial action. The disruption to services will be entirely down to Arriva Rail North reneging on their earlier commitments."