RAIL UNION RMT has confirmed that workers at Arriva Rail North are balloting for strike action amid concerns of passenger safety.

The union informed Arriva Rail North that it is now in formal dispute and will begin immediate preparations for a ballot for industrial action.

This comes after the company failed to provide any assurances around the future of the safety critical role of the guard during a recent meeting between the union and the company.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “The union’s position on Driver Only Operation (DOO) is perfectly clear. We will not agree to any extensions of DOO and will fight to retain the safety critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train.

“We asked Arriva Rail North whether they were prepared to guarantee a second person on all passenger services operated by the company and whether that second person would retain full operational responsibility, for train despatch, Platform Train Interface and current rule book requirements for dealing with contingency arrangements, such as evacuation and protection of the train.

“The response from the Company was ‘we are not in a position to offer either of these guarantees at this present time’. This has been particularly disappointing as Arriva North have reneged on their previous position when they stated they ‘were prepared to offer guarantees around a second person on board trains in addition to the driver’.

“This dispute, and the ballot for industrial action, were entirely preventable if the company had listened to the unions deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously and had put passenger safety before profit.

“The union remains available for talks.”

Northern has responded to the RMT after the union expressed its intention to ballot Northern conductors who are members of the RMT.

A spokesman said: "We are in the early stages of developing our modernisation plans to bring customers a better railway, so we believe the RMT is extremely premature in calling a ballot for strikes. 

"During our discussions this week we offered commitments to consult fully with our people, customers and key stakeholders. We want to protect jobs and pay as we work together to provide safe, secure and accessible services for our customers.

"We want to continue talking with the RMT."