Merseyrail strike set to hit Grand National

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Merseyrail strike at Lime Street. Pic by Paul-Stuart Greenough © JMU Journalism

Further planned strike action has been confirmed for the day of this year’s Grand National at Aintree after talks held between Merseyrail and workers’ union, RMT, ended without agreement.

Last week, members of the RMT union staged a 24-hour walkout over plans for new ‘driver-only’ trains to be introduced to the rail network by 2020, with the next strike now scheduled for April 8th.

The £460 million development outlined by Merseyrail would see a removal of guards on carriages, leading to concerns from staff regarding job losses and safety standards, which led to the original industrial action by the union members.

Following the unsuccessful negotiations on Monday, Merseyrail issued a statement expressing disappointment in the failed talks and then responded to today’s announcement.

Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, Merseyrail’s managing director, said: “As we predicted, the RMT has sunk to a new low by inflicting their strikes on the Grand National. Damaging the company and its passengers is one thing, but damaging the whole of the Liverpool city region on one of its proudest and most important days of the year is impossible to understand.

“It cannot be right that the RMT executive, sitting in London, has taken an unnecessary decision that represents a barefaced attack on the reputation of our region.

“The Saturday of the Grand National is one of our busiest times of the year, and we will make every attempt to ensure that we successfully move around the high volumes of people who choose to travel with us that day. Timetables for the day are currently being developed and will be published very soon.”

YouTube: Alex Wilkinson Photography

Mr Chaudhry-van der Velde, had earlier expressed his frustration, saying: “I don’t know why the RMT agreed to our invitation to come in and talk, unless it was to maintain appearances. They took an intransigent position and wouldn’t discuss any of the items we put forward.”

The RMT’s regional official, John Tilley, countered: “This comes as no surprise, it is what our members wanted us to do – they have been demanding that we take action on that day.

“We don’t expect a public backlash because the public understand what this is about. It is on busy days like the Grand National when we would expect incidents to happen and that is why we have guards on the train.

“Merseyrail had the opportunity yesterday to enter into serious talks but they were more interested in playing media games and unwilling to discuss the issues, they wasted the opportunity. They now have an opportunity before April 8 to get back around the table with us.”

General Secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, had previously said that the union was “ready for talks,” prior to this week’s meeting, however more major travel disruption on Merseyside appears to be on the horizon if the 24-hour strike goes ahead.

About Alistair Baker, JMU Journalism