A bitter row has broken out between rail bosses and union members over planned strikes next week.
The RMT union is planning to strike on Tuesday and Thursday (October 3 and 5), accusing Greater Anglia of failing to ensure the future of train guards across its network, calling it a “clear threat to passenger safety”.
Meanwhile Greater Anglia is reassuring passengers that it will run a full service over the two days regardless – prompting RMT general secretary Mick Cash to accuse the company of employing “a scab army of poorly trained managers, with corners cut and safety compromised”.
Train guards currently operate on 40 per cent of Greater Anglia trains, including on the Norwich to London and Ipswich to Peterborough lines, which both call at Ely.
RMT Greater Anglia conductor and senior conductor members have been instructed by their union not to undertake any overtime or rest day working from 00.01 hours on October 10 until 23.59 hours on November 6 in addition to the strike action already called for on next Tuesday and Thursday.
The majority of Greater Anglia trains have not had conductors for over two decades, including commuter trains into London Liverpool Street from Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Ipswich, and also the Stansted Express.
The rail operator says passengers should not notice a change to their service anywhere on the network, as Greater Anglia has made contingency arrangements to run all trains as normal, if conductors strike.
Spokesman Richard Dean said: “We are open for talks with the RMT in the hope that we can avert the strike.
“However, we know our customers don’t want to see their services cancelled, so we have spent several months training back office staff so that they can fill in for conductors.
“The majority of our services are not affected by the proposed strike anyway, but we are now prepared for the 40 per cent of services that have conductors.”
Extra managers will be available at stations to help customers with any enquiries, should the strikes go ahead, Mr Dean said.
Greater Anglia says conductors would keep their jobs for the length of the franchise right through to October 2025 and would be recruiting more when the company gets new trains from 2019.
It plans for drivers to open and close doors on every train, which already happens on 60 per cent of its trains.
The company says this would enable conductors to “concentrate on their customer service role, which is so popular with customers… This should also improve the punctuality of the service, as there will not be a delay between trains arriving at stations and doors opening and closing. Conductors will continue to receive safety training so that they can deal with any emergencies.”
The RMT has accused Greater Anglia of refusing to reach a negotiation settlement.
Mr Cash said: “It is the wholesale failure of Greater Anglia to address our members concerns over safety that has left us with no option but to escalate our programme of industrial action. Greater Anglia have been given every opportunity to give a guarantee on the future role of the guard on their services. They have failed to do so and that left us with no alternative but to move to a ballot in the interests of rail safety.
“This dispute is about guaranteeing the safety of the travelling public pure and simple. Our members voted by massive majorities for both strike action and action short of a strike but the company have ignored that and have failed to seize the opportunity to give us the very simple assurances on the future of the guards, and the guarantee of a second safety critical member of staff on current services. That failure leaves us no option but to move to strike action.”