RAIL staff strikes are set to disrupt services for six more Saturdays in the run up to Christmas, but a city conductor said it’s about ensuring passenger safety in the future.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members walked out for the first of seven planned strikes on November 16 over West Midlands Trains’ (WMT) alleged plans to “bulldoze through” driver only services.

However, the train operating company, which trades as West Midlands Railways in this region and London Northwestern Railway elsewhere, has called the strikes “unnecessary” and claims there has been a misunderstanding.

A revised timetable was put into operation across the region in order to keep passengers on the move in the run-up to Christmas.

Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, WMT managing director, said: “We have never proposed driver-only operation. “We are committed to keeping a safety-critical conductor on every passenger train. The action is benefitting nobody and has caused major inconvenience to passengers and businesses.”

Sam Spencer, a senior conductor for WMT, who lives in Worcester and is from Droitwich, said she understands the public’s frustration with the disruptions but emphasised the strike is about ensuring passenger safety in the long-term. “The strike that is going ahead is to retain the responsibility of opening and closing the train doors and the risks that come with that, which are huge,” she wrote on Facebook.

“You may read that the company are not taking guards off trains, right now, but taking the door control away is actually their first step to the long term goal of driver-only operation.

“And a being a guard or not, I certainly wouldn’t fancy being on a a service with only the driver who’s doing exactly that, driving. We are striking not for pay and not just for our jobs but for you, the passengers.”

The National Railway Enquires website warned passengers on Saturday only a “very basic service” would run, with some stations not being served at all.

“Please carefully consider whether your journey is absolutely necessary, as significant disruption is expected,” it said.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said union members are “standing rock solid and determined... across the WMT franchise as we fight to put the safety-critical role of the guard at the platform/train interface, and the safety and accessibility of the travelling public, before the profits of the train operator.”

Mr Chaudhry-van der Velde went on to thank members of staff who came to work on Saturday.

“Many of whom have made personal sacrifices to help keep as many people as possible on the move,” he said. “More industrial action is scheduled but we remain determined to find a way of resolving this dispute without further disruption and inconvenience for our passengers.”

Ms Spencer added: “The strike may be a damned inconvenience and I don’t disagree, it may also not be the answer but we have to do something to make them upstairs listen.”

Francis Thomas, WMR head of corporate affairs, said: “RMT raised concerns about job security. We entered into an agreement with RMT 18 months ago to keep a guard on every train throughout our franchise and we intend to honour that agreement.”

Mr Francis said he fully understood the frustrations of frontline colleagues, “especially as there has been so much misinformation” around the dispute.

He reiterated that the rail company “has never sought to introduce driver only operation”, adding: “It simply isn’t part of our plans.”

He went on to say that new trains will be arriving next year as part of a £700 million investment to add 25 per cent more carriages to the network.

“These trains are built differently to the existing older ones, so we have been discussing with the RMT how to get the best out of the new trains, to make it safer and easier for people to get on and off,” continued Mr Thomas.

“We also know that passengers don’t like the delay between the train arriving in the station before the doors open.” He added while last weekend 97 per cent of the planned timetable was able to run with managers trained as guards.

“A strike benefits nobody,” he said