01:33 GMT +319 July 2018
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    Commuters wait on a platform to catch a train toward central London

    UK Commuters Face Worst Travel Chaos in Decades After Staff Walk-Out Over Safety

    © AFP 2018 / Daniel Leal-Olivas
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    Britain has faced its worst travel chaos in decades as rail staff staged a walk-out in protest over driver-only trains.

    Commuters across huge swathes of Britain encountered massive disruption on Wednesday, November 8, as rail staff staged strike action — the worst witnessed in several decades — sparking widespread public outrage on social media.

    ​The stoppages by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) over the introduction of driver-only trains will be staggered over the coming days and will severely affect the services of five rail operators.

    ​Hundreds of services will be canceled, replacement buses will be laid on and services that do run are expected to be busier than usual, passengers have already been warned.

    Staff on Southern, South Western Railway and Greater Anglia walked out on Wednesday and will continue their action on Thursday, November 9.

    ​Commuters using Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North were also affected by the 24-hour action on Wednesday bringing chaos to the north west of England.

    It was later announced that drivers operating on Southern Railway have voted overwhelmingly to end its long running dispute over driver-only trains.

    Aslef, the drivers' union, confirmed its members had voted 4-1 to end its industrial action.

    Twitter Anger

    ​Many passengers took to Twitter to vent their anger at the industrial action and disruption it was causing to their travel arrangements after many services were axed, while those that did operate encountered lengthy delays.

    Safety Fears

    ​​Picket lines were formed at London's Waterloo station where protesting union members held banners aloft stating: "Keep the guard on the train."

    The RMT has raised fears over the safety of passengers if guards are withdrawn from service by the train operators in a bid to save money.

    ​Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said in a letter that guards are vital for duties such as helping passengers who need assistance.

    ​He said Labour believed the railways should aspire to the safest possible method of train dispatch to ensure the maximum level of passenger service, security and safety.

    "I remain concerned that in the event of a train evacuation, derailment or incapacitated driver, the absence of a guard to assist could leave passengers at risk," McDonald said.

    "Similarly, anti-social behavior on trains could increase with the presence of a guard," he added.

    ​The industrial action comes despite a proposed agreement to increase pay by 28.5 percent over the next five years.

    Drivers' union Aslef are keen for its members to accept the deal, but the RMT union has rejected it, citing passenger safety rather than financial gain.

    'Political Game'

    A Transport Department spokesperson accused the RMT of attempting to disrupt passengers as part of a "political game."

    "However, rail companies are keeping passengers moving with the large majority of services running as planned. This dispute is not about jobs or safety — employees have been guaranteed jobs and salaries," the spokesperson said.

    "In fact at Southern Rail, where these changes have already been introduced, there are now more staff on trains. The independent rail regulator has said driver-controlled trains, which have been used in this country for more than 30 years, are safe," the spokesman added.

    Labor has already told the five rail operators that the party will halt any future plans to extend driver-only operations if it wins the next general election.

    Guard Praised

    Only last month, passengers evacuated a London-bound train on October, 3, after a preacher wearing a rucksack began reciting Bible verses about "doomsday."

    Fearing his erratic behavior, some spilled out onto the track just outside Wimbledon station in south-west London, forcing South Western Railway to switch off the power to the line. The train guard was later praised for his actions in calming down passengers down.

    Related:

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    Tags:
    railway, train, safety, anger, social media, transport, passenger, strike, Southern Rail, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), London, Britain, United Kingdom
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