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Last Updated:  Thursday, 6 March, 2003, 17:48 GMT
Guards to strike over rail safety
Train and passenger
Train services across the UK are likely to be affected
Rail travellers face widespread disruption if a vote in favour of industrial action by guards with 12 companies leads to strike action.

The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union announced more than 50% of its members took part in the ballot.

Services by operators, including Virgin, Connex, ScotRail, Arriva Trains Merseyside will all be affected.

Guards at South West Trains voted by 36% in favour, while staff at c2c backed industrial action by just 20%.

[There is] widespread anger among our members that costs and profits are being put before safety
Bob Crow, RMT union

Strike dates could be set as early as Tuesday at a meeting of the RMT.

Nearly 90% of staff balloted at Virgin West Coast have backed taking action, with 87% of Arriva Trains Merseyside staff voting in favour.

Staff at ScotRail voted 81% in favour with Thames Trains and Wales and Borders, 78% and 71% respectively.

The dispute first surfaced at the end of the 1990s when most train companies switched the responsibility for safety from guards to drivers.

The RMT said this reduced the role of guards to onboard "KitKat sellers".

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "Members in a dozen companies have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action to defend the role of the guard.

Operator support

"Eight operators have already honoured their agreement with us and signed up to restore fully the safety role of the guard.

"Like us, they see that this agreement will strengthen safety for all who work in the rail industry and who travel by train."

A number of companies were not balloted after agreeing to the union's demands.

They were GNER, the Island Line, Anglia Trains, Hull Trains, First Great Western, First Great Eastern, First North Western and the Chiltern Line.

The Association of Train Operating Companies said the industry's safety body, Railway Safety, had met the RMT's concerns.

Striking would be a "totally irresponsible" way of trying to change the industry's rules, said Steve Bence, the association's director of production support.

He said managers and supervisors were being lined up to perform the duties of guards if the union decided to call strikes.

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