Rail strike latest: Harrogate passengers badly hit this week as plea is made for Government talks

Harrogate passengers group says the lives of commuters in the town have been badly disrupted by the national rail strike and both management and the Government should be talking to the unions to resolve the dispute.

By Graham Chalmers
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 10:31 am

After the first day of the industrial action called by the RMT on Tuesday saw 80% of rail services axed nationally, Brian Dunsby OBE of the Harrogate Line Supporters Group said the impact on transport in the town was worse than it might have been expected - and not just on the three official days of the strike.

A second day of strike action nationally is going ahead today, Thursday after the RMT accused the Government of "wrecking negotiations " at the same time as The Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) union accepted a 7.1% pay offer for its members in a deal with Merseyrail covering the Merseyside transport system.

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The concerns of Harrogate Line Supporters Group go far beyond the short-term impact on travel arrangements and local businesses.

The Rail Delivery Group, which is representing rail companies in talks with the unions, says it wants to agree a framework for reforms that would see issues such as pay resolved across the board.

But the Government shows no sign of looking for a compromise and today announced plans to change the law to enable employers to use agency staff to cover staffing gaps during strikes.

What Harrogate Line Supporters Group says

“During the strike days, Northern Rail have cancelled all local services on the Leeds-Harrogate-York line,” he said.

“But the Northern website advises people not to travel between Tuesday and this Sunday, and to make alternative plans.

"There there are no replacement buses and no alternative rail travel provided.

“LNER have also confirmed that all its Azuma services will operate only between London Kings Cross, Leeds and Edinburgh with none of the usual side extensions, including Harrogate.”

What Northern Rail says

Speaking for Northern, Tricia Williams, the rail company’s chief operating officer, apologised for the disruption to passengers caused by Britain’s biggest rail strike for 30 years. But she reaffirmed Northern’s advice to passengers not to travel.

“We’ve done everything we can to offer people across the North of England a skeleton service – but our advice remains not to travel,” she said.

“The timetable we have put in place has been agreed with Network Rail, who have had to consider the requirements of other train operators and freight services on

the network.

“We apologise in advance for the disruption and inconvenience that the RMT’s industrial action will cause.

“We continue to be keen to speak to the RMT to find a resolution and avoid any future strikes.”

What rail workers say

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) say they are fighting not only for better pay but to save jobs and protect the industry from cuts, which they say would involve the loss of 1,800 maintenance staff on the railways and undermine standards on the railways.

They are also angry that the Government has highlighted rail drivers’ annual salary of £55,000 when 96% of rail drivers are members of Aslef, a union which is not actually on strike.

What Harrogate Line Supporters Group says

The concerns of Harrogate Line Supporters Group go far beyond the short-term impact on travel arrangements and local businesses.

It fears the dispute is a backward step for rail services in the town.

Brian Dunsby said: “We are very concerned that this unnecessary strike risks driving people away from using the railways and will undermine rail’s recovery from the

Covid pandemic.

“We ask management and Government to get talking to the union to resolve things and we urge the union to be more considerate of the impact on passengers of all categories.”

PMQs: Harrogate MP raises shortage of trained drivers as an issue

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones used the rail strike to make a point during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday about his concerns over some of the unspoken problems in the rail industry - a lack of trained drivers and a loss of services.

“We now have new rolling stock, more services and better services,” the former junior transport minister told the House of Commons.

“But we have though seen services lost through a lack of staff whilst the industry catches up on driver training lost during the pandemic. Strike action takes us back to the 1970s.

“We need to ensure apprenticeship schemes for engineers and driver training are central to our rail modernisation programme so that we can recover lost services and grow the industry.”

Recent days have also seen Harrogate’s MP discuss the drivers’ situation with Robin Gisby, chair of Northern Trains Ltd.