Rail strikes cause disruption to thousands

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The Independent Online

Rail misery was heaped on thousands of travellers across northern England yesterday when workers at Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western went on strike.

Rail misery was heaped on thousands of travellers across northern England yesterday when workers at Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western went on strike.

At the height of the morning and evening rush hours, Manchester's Piccadilly station was deserted, save for a handful of inter-city passengers. Departure boards gave details of occasional replacement buses feeding the rest of north-west England.

Arriva, a company dealt a £2m fine by the Strategic Rail Authority earlier this month for its failure to provide services, was accused by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) of having "contempt" for workers in a dispute over pay.

Arriva said it was providing 55 per cent of its services throughout the 48-hour strike but was "disappointed and frustrated" action was going ahead.

Union members holding a picket outside Manchester Piccadilly claimed that fewer services were running. "It's more like 30 or 40 per cent," said one, who asked not to be named. "The response from the members has been very strong and the dispute is getting bitter now. It is set to run on and on."

Talks to resolve the row ended without agreement earlier this week, with Arriva accusing the union of demanding an unreasonable pay increase.

Meanwhile, First North Western had to cancel all its services after hundreds of train drivers staged the second of three 24-hour strikes over the sacking of a driver who went through two consecutive red lights. The third strike is on Monday.

Last month, union members voted by more than 10 to one in favour of the strikes in a long-running dispute over the disciplining of a number of its members, claiming unduly harsh treatment. The company insists that the safety of its passengers is paramount.

Don Foster, a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said Arriva – fined after cancelling 1,000 services a week through lack of drivers last summer – was already "one of the worst train services in the country". He added: "Passengers should not be made to suffer sporadic strikes as well. This dispute underlines the need for compulsory arbitration."

The spectre of industrial action still looms over the London Underground system, where leaders of thousands of workers rejected a pay offer earlier this week and warned of a dispute unless an improvement is made within two weeks. RMT said an offer of a 2 per cent rise or a three-year deal worth 2.5 per cent now and at least 2 per cent in each of the following two years was an "insult".

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