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Rail conductors in bank holiday strike

A 48-hour walkout by conductors has brought more frustration for bank holiday rail passengers as services between the biggest cities in the North of England are reduced to a husk.

Those who went ahead with their travel plans found packed carriages, because of the curtailed timetable introduced by Northern Rail. Many trains between Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, Leeds and Newcastle were cancelled, and the disruption also affected services between Carlisle, Sheffield, York and Stoke.

Conductors voted for the strike to back their demands for double pay when working on bank holidays. The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said about 1,000 conductors walked out. The action will end at the stroke of midnight tonight.

Some passengers were advised to delay their travel plans until tomorrow, when a full programme of services will be restored. A revised timetable has been posted on the firm's website.

The head of Northern Rail said he was disappointed by the strike, but was accused of harbouring a "Scrooge spirit" by the RMT union's leadership. It said the extra pay for bank holiday working had been agreed some time ago, when conductors accepted a deal that saw them awarded double time in exchange for forgoing a salary increase and extra annual holiday.

"The spirit of old Scrooge is alive and well on Northern Rail and our conductor members have shown in this ballot that they will not be treated as second-class citizens this Christmas," said Bob Crow, the RMT's general secretary, adding that the franchise had made £85m in profits in the past four years.

"You only have to look at the sporting calendar to see that these days are full-on public holidays everywhere other than in the minds of the senior management at Northern Rail."

The extra disruption comes the day after much of the rail network closed down for Boxing Day, when a Tube strike also caused problems for London shoppers.

Some attempting to make a journey yesterday vented their frustration on Twitter. "I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of Northern Rail for screwing with people's holidays," wrote one traveller.