Upper Calder Valley passengers are increasingly fed up with the rubbish train service on the Transpennine route run by Arriva Rail North – a private, profiteering company owned by Deutsche Bahn, which is turn is owned by the Federal Republic of Germany. To add to the confusion, Arriva Rail North announces itself publicly as Northern trains.
On 20th September Calderdale Trades Council held a meeting in Halifax Town Hall where Craig Johnston, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) Relief Regional Organiser North, spoke about the dispute with Northern over driver-only operated trains.
Craig Johnston outlined crucial safety reasons for resisting driver-only operated trains and said RMT encourages passengers to confront Northern eg through the Facebook group, Northern Resist, about fare rises, poor rail links, poor services, penalty fares policy, closure of ticket offices and the policy of only selling the most expensive tickets on trains.
Northern Resist acknowledges that the deterioration in the quality of public transport services, particularly trains, is mainly down to privatisation & deregulation. But they add,
“Nevertheless the companies responsible for providing a service that is fit for purpose aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities. This is why we are going to hold them to account.”
Facebook says there are 99 members of Northern Resist in Hebden Bridge. Calderdale Green Party and Calder Valley Labour Party both support the RMT campaign to return trains to public ownership.
In addition to encouraging passengers to use Northern Resist to confront Northern about their failings, Craig Johnston made the following points to the Calderdale Trades Council meeting:
The interim report of inquiry into the May timetable disruption in the North of England and the South East was published on 20 September: this found that Office of Rail Regulation, Department for Transport, Northern, Govia Thameslink and Network Rail were jointly responsible for the collapse of rail services in those regions and this reveals a gap in responsibility and accountability within the rail industry.
The Government has announced a major Rail Franchising Review, but has already ruled out renationalisation as an option.
Most of the rail franchises in the UK are operated by European state railway companies, and these franchises are subsidised by UK taxpayers.
28 days of strike action by the RMT have so far taken place or been announced affecting Northern.
Northern employs 1370 conductors and only 20 have broken the strike so far.
Northern’s franchise specifies that the company must make 50% of services driver-only operated.
Northern is aiming for this on all lines except Whitby to Middlesbrough.
Guards have more than 35 safety and operational competencies and are re-examined every 2 years. They have a safety-critical role, including during incidents and accidents, crime and anti-social behaviour. They support the accessibility of rail services and the safety of passengers.
RMT thanks trades unions and trades councils for their support during the dispute.
Actions suggested for Calderdale Trades Council
- Lobby Calderdale Council which is part of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority: Rail North Board and oversees the Northern franchise, and local MPs.
- Leafletting local stations.
- Donate to strike fund: agreed to donate £50.
- Encourage Leeds City branch of RMT to affiliate to trades council.
Points raised in discussion
- Importance of guards in safeguarding women who travel by rail from sexual harassment and assault.
- Mersey Rail have settled their dispute by retaining guards but removing their control of train doors, retaining their safety role, changing their other duties and introducing a pay freeze.
- What can the public do to support the union? Use of social media by RMT has been very effective.
- Guards have a strong sense of pride in their union membership.
- Managers at Northern are against removing guards from trains but the company is bound by the terms of their franchise that stipulate this.