Rail commuters suffer as second strike by guards cuts services by up to 90 per cent

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The Independent Online

Rail services on some routes were cut by up to 90 per cent yesterday as commuters were hit by the second of three 24-hour strikes by guards.

Rail services on some routes were cut by up to 90 per cent yesterday as commuters were hit by the second of three 24-hour strikes by guards.

The RMT rail union said there had been no substantive negotiations to resolve the dispute – called over the safety role of guards – and it warned that passengers faced the further disruption of a third stoppage on 17 April if no settlement was reached. A union spokesman said the 3,000 members involved had given solid support to yesterday's stoppage. Nine companies were disrupted, including Virgin, Connex and ScotRail.

Managers and supervisors stood in for striking guards, as they did in the first stoppage on Friday, while buses and coaches were again laid on to replace some cancelled trains. A union spokesman said many managers being brought in to do strikers' jobs were not properly trained and would be incapable of dealing with the aftermath of an accident.

He said Virgin Trains had admitted as much in a circular ordering stand-ins to contact controllers in the case of train failure because they were not "competent" to deal with such an emergency. A Virgin spokesman said all those covering for strikers had been properly trained and their competence had been validated by the rail inspectorate.

The union called the dispute after alleging that guards had been reduced to "Kit Kat sellers". The accusation has been strongly denied by the Association of Train Operating Companies, which says the industrial action is unjustified.

The train operators affected by the strikes were: Arriva Merseyside where 50 per cent of services were cancelled; Connex (30 per cent); Central Trains (90 per cent); South Central (25 per cent); ScotRail (50 per cent); Silverlink (25 per cent); Thames Trains (less than 10 per cent); Virgin West Coast (between 40 and 50 per cent) and Virgin Cross Country (nearly 90 per cent).

The Strategic Rail Authority said an opinion poll of 1,000 adults showed only one in 10 backed the strikes. But the RMT claimed "widespread" support for its campaign.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said: "Rail passengers need this strike like a hole in the head. But RMT members may lose out if this strike takes more people off the railways and on to our already congested roads."

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