Rollout of £500m fleet of new Merseyrail trains moves step closer as RMT Union guard dispute settled

With the long-running dispute over ‘driver-only’ trains settled the new Merseyrail fleet can start to be put into service.

The long-awaited introduction of a new fleet of state-of-the-art Merseyrail trains has taken a huge step forward after a long-running dispute over guard positions was finally settled.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union voted in favour of proposals for establishing a new permanent position of train manager on the new Merseyrail class 777 service trains.

This new position will continue the role of the existing guards on the new trains.

The long-running dispute over the ‘driver-only’ operated trains led to a number of strikes over the last three years, but now both the union and Merseyrail have agreed on the new position.

The new trains that Liverpool City region has funded for the Merseyrail.

Rollout of new trains

The RMT agreement marks a huge milestone in terms of finally beginning the roll-out of the new trains on the Merseyrail network. The dispute was one of a number of blockages that have delayed that rollout, with COVID another key factor.

An agreement still needs to be reached with Aslef, the driver’s union, but it is expected that the RMT deal means that deal can also now be struck.

Responding, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram said: “The introduction of a new fleet of trains on the Merseyrail network has been a long held ambition, but external issues such as COVID have delayed their implementation.

“This agreement reached with the RMT Union is another important milestone.

“Whilst the cost of living crisis continues, it is essential that public transport remains affordable and we attract more people to ditch the car to achieve our 2040 carbon reduction targets, which is a full decade earlier than National Government.

“We are committed to ensuring that local people are able to enjoy the new trains as soon as possible. There is an important lesson here however: it is only by getting around the table and working together in good faith that you can reach a negotiated resolution to these kinds of situations.”

RMT and Merseyrail agreement

RMT members voted 84% in favour of accepting the company’s proposals in a ballot, the results of which were confirmed earlier this month.

An agreement in principle was reached in 2018, protecting the role of the guard, suspending further industrial action. Despite the in principle agreement, the RMT reported in May that its members had voted against the staff deal for the new Merseyrail trains by a margin of 54.4% to 45.6%.

Following the new ballot, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told members: “The matter has been subject to recent consideration by the union’s National Executive Committee who note the result of the referendum and I have been instructed to inform the company of our acceptance.”

According to the agreement in principle, train managers will be permanent employees and existing guards will transfer to the role on a salary of around £31,000.

The document added: “It is agreed the implementation date will be when the first new 777 train goes into passenger service. The exact date will be agreed once a firm fleet arrival date has been agreed.

The RMT is now balloting members as to whether to accept a one-year ‘no strings’ offer of 7.1% on basic rates of pay or a £1600 flat rate increase for grades below £24K whichever is the greater. Its National Executive Committee is “strongly recommending” staff vote in favour.