UPDATED: Rail workers stage protest in Leeds city centre

RAIL workers were protesting in Leeds city centre this morning amid claims the government is set to cut job, services and safety on rail services across the north of England.

Thursday, 5th November 2015, 11:41 am

Ticket office and railway station office staff were among members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union demonstrating outside the Queens Hotel in City Square

The hotel is hosting this year’s National Rail Conference, where Rail Minister Claire Perry is due to be among the speakers.

RMT leaders say they want to highlight their concerns about the new Northern and TransPennine Express train franchises, which will be jointly managed by a partnership called Rail North.

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Councillors from Leeds City Council are among members of Rail North, which is made up of northern local authorities charged with helping oversee future rail franchises in the north of England

Former Conservative transport minister Steven Norris was due to attend today’s conference, which has been organised by industry magazine RAIL.

Craig Johnston, RMT organiser for the north of England, claimed the government is planning to award the franchise for operating rail services in the north of England to either the Dutch, French or German state railways.

He said: “The Tories are handing the north of England’s railways over to the Germans, Dutch or French state railways so that those people can make profits. They are also proposing specifications in the franchise that will bring in less safe and less customer friendly driver operated only trains and potential cuts to station staff and ticket offices.”

Mr Johnston added: “We are calling on Labour councillors who are part of Rail North to oppose the government’s franchise specifications and to actively fight the specifications in the franchises and to campaign for rail services, rail safety and rail jobs across the north of England.”

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “The next Northern and Transpennine franchises will bring massive improvements for customers, including scrapping the outdated and unpopular Pacers, bringing in a brand new fleet of modern trains, and boosting capacity at peak times by a third. It’s part of our ambitious one nation plan to transform transport infrastructure and build a Northern Powerhouse to create a balanced, healthier economy, and we are working with Rail North to ensure these benefits are maximised.

“We recognise the value of customer-facing staff on the railways, which is why we are not specifying any staff cuts in the new franchises. Giving drivers responsibility for opening and closing doors frees up on-board staff to provide the high level of customer service that passengers deserve.”