The RMT rail union has suspended strike action after a ‘breakthrough’ in talks with Northern Rail ended a two-year deadlock on proposed changes to the role of conductors.

RMT has already carried out 47 days of strike action after Northern announced it was introducing new trains to its fleet that might change the role of conductors onboard. The union claimed removing conductors from trains would be a threat to public safety.

Union members were due to walk out on the next two Saturdays over the dispute.

Now the union says Arriva Rail North has offered a guarantee of a conductor on all trains, including the new fleet, for the duration of the current franchise, which has been supported by the Department for Transport.

Further talks with all stakeholders will determine operational models for the franchise moving forwards.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “Firstly, I want to pay tribute to RMT’s members on Northern Rail whose resilience and determination through two years and 47 days of action has been the foundation on which today’s major breakthrough has been based. They are an absolute credit to both this union and the wider movement.

“I also want to thank the travelling public for their extraordinary support and both Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram for their efforts that have been important in allowing us to break the deadlock today.

“Today’s offer of a guarantee of a conductor on all services throughout the duration of the franchise, including the new fleet, is the substantial progress we have been pushing for and has allowed RMT’s executive to take the decision to suspend the current action and allow for further talks to now take place with all stakeholders around the operational details. The union will make further statements in due course.”

While Northern has welcomed the breakthrough, it says the news came “too late” to reintroduce a normal timetable after it had been preparing for strike action. It will therefore be running a reduced service this Saturday (9 February), with about 700 services operating throughout the day and few running after 1700.

David Brown, MD of Northern, said: “We warmly welcome RMT’s decision to suspend its strike action and recommence talks about what the future role of the conductor looks like. We have been very clear in these discussions that there will be a conductor on all our trains now and into the future. We are looking forward to further positive talks with RMT about operational models moving ahead so that we can resolve their dispute and bring it to an end. The suspension of the RMT strikes is good news for customers and businesses across the North.”

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