Guards vote to strike over 'KitKat status'

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The Independent Online

Thousands of train guards are understood to have voted for industrial action which will cause disruption throughout the rail network.

Thousands of train guards are understood to have voted for industrial action which will cause disruption throughout the rail network.

The RMT rail union is due to announce the result of a ballot on strikes on Wednesday and disruption could begin a week later.

Without guards, most services will be unable to run, although companies will attempt to use managers to keep some routes open.

A previous ballot, where guards voted with an 84 per cent majority for action, was declared null and void after three train operating companies took legal action. Out of 23 train companies, employees at 19 voted for disruption.

The guards are angry over the imposition of new working methods which they believe will involve a reduction in their status and could undermine safety.

Under the old system, in the aftermath of a rail crash guards were equally responsible with the driver for emergency procedures. The new rules mean guards will only be in charge of the welfare of passengers.

The RMT believes the new system is "the thin end of the wedge" and that eventually guards will be reduced to the role of "KitKat sellers".

Railtrack, the infrastructure company, said yesterday that the new regulations would enhance safety. The Association of Train Operating Companies has commissioned an independent report which they predict will endorse their assertions.

The union is expected to announce a series of day-long stoppages, possibly synchronised with seven 24-hour strikes by drivers involved in a separate dispute at Connex scheduled for 29 February; 8, 16, 24, and 27 March and 4 and 12 April.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Health and Safety Executive is expected to publish its report into the 1997 Southall train crash in which seven people died and 150 were injured.

* Inquests will begin today into the deaths of 31 people killed when a high-speed Great Western train collided with a local Thames train at Ladbroke Grove, near Paddington, west London.

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