Rail chief pledges to keep Leeds and the North moving as two-day strike looms

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A rail boss has pledged to keep Leeds and the North moving as a fresh wave of train strikes looms next week.

Members of the RMT union are expected to stage two days of walkouts on Monday and Thursday over claims that Northern Rail - which manages services across Yorkshire and the North - is continuing to “snub meaningful talks” in a long running row over the expansion of driver-only trains and safety concerns linked to the move.

Regional Director of Northern Rail Sharon Keith, pictured at Leeds Railway Station..23rd March 2018 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Regional Director of Northern Rail Sharon Keith, pictured at Leeds Railway Station..23rd March 2018 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

The protest will take the total to 17 days strike action so far in the row, which is now into its second year.

The union says it has demanded “tripartite” talks with the company and the Department of Transport but “has received no positive response to that call”.

At Leeds railway station this morning (Friday), Sharon Keith, regional director of Northern, told the YEP that the firm was “working incredibly hard to run as many services as possible” on Monday and Thursday, with 70 per cent of normal services between 7am and 7pm running, and 1,400 trains in total.

“We would encourage customers to check the timetables before travelling,” she said.

“We are incredibly sorry for the disruption this is causing our customers. We understand it has a significant impact on them and the wider economy of the North.

“We would encourage the RMT to come back to the table without pre-conditions and enter into meaningful dialogue.

“They need to step away from what is now a national agenda and focus on resolving this for the North.”

CHECK IF YOUR TRAIN IS RUNNING DURING THE STRIKE DAYS

She insisted that driver controlled operation - where the driver opens and closes the train doors - is “very separate from staffing of trains”, and a “safe method of operation” which is commonly used across the rail network.

And asked to reassure Leeds travellers, she added: “For Leeds passengers, we are prioritising those very busy lines of route, of which many come into Leeds. So Leeds is very well served on strike days.

“But there is disruption.

“So we would encourage passengers to check before they travel.”

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “Every single effort that RMT has made to reach a negotiated settlement with Northern Rail over safe operation and safe staffing has been kicked back in our faces.

“No one should be in any doubt, this dispute is about putting the safety of the travelling public before the profits of the private train companies.

“It is frankly ludicrous that we have been able to negotiate long-term arrangements in Scotland and Wales that protect the guards and passenger safety but we are being denied the same opportunities with rail companies in England.”

FACTFILE

January 2018: RMT announced fresh wave of strikes on January 8, 10 and 12.

March 21: New 2-day walkout announced for March 26 and 29.

Total strike days on Northern in current row: 17

1,400 trains will run on each day of new strikes, and ‘vast majority’ between 7am and 7pm.

Check if your train is running at https://www.northernrailway.co.uk/strike.

Damage to the track can be seen at Springs Tunnel

No trains between Leeds and Ilkley until MONDAY after landslip damage