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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 14:00 GMT
Guards aim for striking impact
York Railway Station
Normally bustling stations have empty platforms
As guards employed by Arriva Trains Northern strike, BBC News Online's special correspondent Mike Mckay gauges the reaction in Yorkshire.

She stood shivering on the station platform. Arms folded tightly, her short denim jacket and baseball cap were weak protection against the biting north wind gusting along York's platform three.

Student Catherine Ather, 19, had arrived to collect her friend travelling from Leeds. But there was no sign of the Arriva train, scheduled to be one of the handful running on Thursday.

"She's called me on my mobile and says she's hoping another one might be coming out of Leeds soon. But it could be another hour or so before she arrives - if she does," laughed Catherine.

Station concourse
About one in 10 services are operating
Yes, she said, as it happened, she supported the conductors' demands for a better deal from Arriva.

Meanwhile, Leeds station was uncharacteristically quiet. The normal bustle of thousands in and out of a city second to London as a financial centre, was dramatically reduced.

Up to two miles of standing traffic was clogging motorways into the city as travellers took to the roads.

Arriva's human resources director Julie Allan was attempting damage limitation with the media.

Driver haemorrhage

"We're running a skeleton service, just less than 10% of our normal number.

"But I would apologise to our customers. I feel very sorry for them and can only say we're determined to resolve this dispute."

Thousands in the region are regular train users
Equally, if not more, determined to press their claims, upward of 40 pickets and strikers gathered outside York station, the traditional centre of Britain's railway system and once the largest in Europe.

Arriva normally runs 1,600 trains a day. But its desperate gesture to stem its driver haemorrhage by hiking their pay by nearly 18% has incensed the company's conductors.

Pete Rawcliffe, 50, has been a conductor, based at York, for 36 years.

"During the past eight or nine years about 115 conductors have left or moved from here," he said. "Things have been going down the nick since privatisation."

Drunken passengers

He said conductors had to work for 13 days without a break to maintain the service.

They did not begrudge the drivers a substantial increase, but contended that conductors should at least be offered a similar percentage increase on their lower salaries.

This woman followed me down the corridor, kicking and punching

Andy Goodhall, conductor
Andy Goodhall, 39, a conductor for six years, said there was more to their job than "just walking up and down carriages collecting tickets."

They often took the brunt of unruly or drunken passengers.

"I was assaulted by a drunken woman passenger on the Leeds run, after a dispute over another passenger who couldn't produce a ticket. This woman followed me down the corridor, kicking and punching.

"She was given four months in prison but all conductors know that Friday nights and Saturday nights can be times of high risk with drunken passengers."

Then there were the safety issues. The other day he had been sent 300 yards down the track, just outside Leeds, to lay warning detonators after his train broke down.

Just then the burly figure of Bob Crowe, the RMT's assistant general secretary, joined the York pickets.

Bob Crowe, of RMT
Bob Crowe: "Why are there so few trains running?"
"Arriva say our members aren't an essential part of the service," he said." In which case, why are there so few trains running?"

He said there had been a 100% turnout by RMT conductors.

The strike would not be happening, he said, if the railway industry had not abandoned central pay bargaining after privatisation. Under British Rail every one understood the national pay scales and knew where they stood.

But they could not now accept a situation in which drivers received a 4,000 uplift, not to mention a Christmas bonus of 400, while conductors were locked into a 3.5% settlement.

Most of the passengers waiting on the York platforms were GNER travellers, unaffected by the strike.

But thousands of people who rely on Arriva's cross-Pennine service have been hit by the strike - and with little sign of a breakthrough, more inconvenience looks set to come in February.

See also:

24 Jan 02 | England
Commuters stranded by rail strike
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'
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