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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 13:48 GMT
Commuters stranded by rail strike
York Railway Station
Normally bustling stations have empty platforms
Railway stations across northern England were deserted on Thursday as guards employed by Arriva Trains Northern went on strike.

Morning rail commuters were forced to use bus and car to get to work as members of the RMT union started the first of two-day stoppages in a dispute over pay rises.

Although traffic jams were predicted across the area, the AA reported roads were quieter in Leeds - which has one of the busiest railway stations outside London - than expected.

Chris Smith, of Direct Line Insurance, which has offices in Leeds, said: "Some of our staff are car sharing and others are using public transport."

Once again, the people suffering in this are the passengers

Ernie Preston, North East Rail Passenger Committee

The union wants a 22.5% rise in their basic pay, but the company has offered 8%.

Many of Arriva's 1,600 daily services were cancelled after staff walked out at 0001 GMT on Thursday, with management running a skelton service on peak arterial routes.

The union is calling for closer pay parity for guards with drivers. The company is offering the same basic 3% pay rise as drivers with another 5% in productivity gains.

Bob Crowe, assistant general secretary of the RMT union, said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that guards did not expect the same rate of pay as train drivers but did expect the same percentage increase.

Referring to the strikes, he said: "It is purely the result of Arriva treating one group of staff more favourably than others.

"What does it do for morale when one group of staff gets a massive pay increase and the other group of staff don't?

'Reasonable deal'

Mr Crowe said train drivers had seen a huge hike in their salaries including pension benefits.

Asked if he was prepared to consider negotiations over productivity improvements, he said the union was not prepared to talk about changes to their members' working conditions.

Station concourse
About one in ten services are operating

But he said he was in favour of national pay bargaining.

Euan Cameron, managing director of Arriva Trains Northern, said guards were being offered the same increase in pay but unions refused to have discussions about productivity improvements.

Mr Cameron said the company was offering a "very reasonable deal" and that a debate was needed about the pros and cons of national pay bargaining.

Mr Cameron said: "What we want to do is to get passengers back on the trains.

"We are suggesting that they call of the dispute, get round for meaningful discussions and get this resolved."

The strike, which follows one on South West Trains earlier this month, affects inter-city routes across the Pennines, regional railways across the north and north-west of England.

Further stoppage

Secretary of the Rail Passenger Committee for the North-East, Ernie Preston, said: "Once again, the people suffering in this are the passengers."

The union has announced a further 48-hour strike on 5 and 6 February.

The action will affect services in an area bounded by Sheffield in the south, Bewick-on-Tweed in the north, Merseyside in the west and the east coast.

In the North West, it will halt connections in much of Tameside, Rochdale and the key Manchester Airport link.

Thousands in the region are regular train users

Train services between Manchester and Liverpool will also be hit. Merseyside's local network Merseyrail will not be affected as it is run by a separate company.

Lancashire is also fortunate as many of its services are run by First Northwestern, Virgin West Coast and Central.

In Cumbria, disruptions are expected on the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line, although some trains will be running.

Other services operating despite the strike include peak hour trains between Skipton and Leeds, Bradford Forster Square and Leeds, and Micklefield and Leeds.

Peak hour services will also go from Carlisle, Hexham and Newcastle, Morpeth and Newcastle and Chester-le-Street and Newcastle.

They will also run during the busiest hours between Hull and Bridlington, Hull and Leeds, Hull and Doncaster and Retford and Sheffield.

There will be an hourly service between York and Manchester Piccadilly and a two-hourly service between Sheffield and Barnsley and Sheffield and Doncaster.

The BBC's Simon Montague in Leeds Station
"The strike just adds to the commuter's problems"
Former passenger Julie Wilkinson
"I gave up travelling with Arriva"
RMT's Bob Crowe responds to Arriva's Euan Cameron
"We want the same percentage increase"
See also:

24 Jan 02 | Scotland
Strike vote by ScotRail drivers
24 Jan 02 | England
Guards aim for striking impact
24 Jan 02 | England
Head to head: Trains strike
16 Jan 02 | England
Rail strikes delayed for talks
11 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Rail network set for extra billions
09 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair attacked over rail 'farce'
09 Jan 02 | UK Politics
'Secret move' to end rail strike denied
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