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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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Union's fears for Tyne Valley rail line

THE Tyne Valley Railway Line has became a bitter battleground between rail unions and bosses.

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Members of the railway workers’ union RMT (from left) Philip Clark, Craig Johnston and Richie Veitch stage their protest about proposed cuts to services and staff at Hexham station.

Railway workers mounted a protest at Hexham railway station on Tuesday against what they describe as the biggest threat to railway services since the Beeching Axe of the 1960s.

At the same time, there were angry protests at rail company Northern Rail’s decision to axe off-peak fares on the line – a decision which will hit hundreds of local commuters.

The protests have been sparked by the Department for Transport’s consultation exercise on the future of the Northern and Trans Pennine rail franchises, drawn up in conjunction with Rail North, a conglomeration of 30 Northern local authorities.

Railway workers’ union RMT say the proposals will result in fare rises, service and timetable cuts and the loss of hundreds of essential rail jobs.

They also feel passenger service and safety will be affected by the proposed introduction of driver-only operation, the sacking of train guards, conductors, station de-staffing and ticket office closures.

Union members are particularly concerned that the proposed cuts will impact on disabled, older and women passengers.

The consultation is due to end on Monday of next week.

Further fuel has been added to the fires of discontent by Northern Rail’s announcement this week that, with effect from Monday September 8, off-peak tickets can no longer be used during weekday evenings on local rail services between Hexham and Newcastle.

Customers who currently use off-peak tickets during the evening peak will either have to travel earlier or later, or buy an anytime ticket.

The rail company claims the majority of customers who travel at the evening peak time already buy season tickets or anytime fares and won’t be affected by this change.

They could also find their trains are less crowded.

Commercial director, of Northern Rail, Richard Allan, said: “The majority of customers will be unaffected by these changes, but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening.”

Off-peak day/duo tickets will no longer be valid on weekdays on all services between Hexham and Newcastle between 4pm and 6pm.

Regular travellers could benefit from season tickets, which can be purchased for a week, month or year, and offer significant discounts.

The changes are being made after the DfT asked Northern to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its new franchise agreement.

The franchise agreement includes commitments to invest in more customer information systems, better retailing facilities and environmental initiatives, which will lead to over £6m being invested to improve facilities for customers.

However, RMT has described the move as “a savage kick in the teeth for the travelling public”.

Acting general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, said: “People are already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity and the fact that this has been cooked up by the Department for Transport in collusion with the privatisation pirates from Northern Rail is a warning of what’s to come.

“Let’s not forget that the core of the Government’s future plans for Northern and TPE is to axe jobs, throw the guards off the trains and jack up fares, while capacity to meet surging rail demand in the area is left to stagnate.

“The attack on the fare-paying public has already begun.”

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