TRAVELLING by train can sometimes be a frustrating experience – especially where delays and cancellations are concerned.

Those two words have become synonymous with rail travel recently, thanks to a two-year dispute between the RMT rail union and rail company Northern, over the role of guards on trains.

The latest round of strikes saw RMT enter its 31st day of action, instructing its members not to book shifts for five Saturdays in a row, which will stretch to November 10, after union bosses claimed Northern was unwilling to co-operate in discussing a way forward.

In response, the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership and campaign group Tyne Valley Rail Users’ Group insisted that the Department for Transport needed to get involved in the negotiations, saying that after two years, people in the Tyne Valley wanted trains to work efficiently again.

On top of worries about journey times and cancelled trains, would rail users also say one of their main concerns about travelling by train was safety?

The RMT is claiming that safety could be a major issue if Northern’s owner, Arriva Rail North, goes ahead with plans to introduce driver-only trains.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “No guards on trains, combined with the de-staffing of stations, is a toxic cocktail that gives criminals a free hand on Britain’s violent railways.

“That’s a culture Northern are quite happy to tolerate, but it is one that the union will never accept.

“It is scandalous that while other train operators have been prepared to engage seriously with RMT on the crucial issue of a guaranteed second, safety-critical member of staff on their services, Arriva Rail North has treated us with contempt and made a mockery of the talks process.‎”

On driver-only operated trains, the driver, rather than the guard, opens and closes the doors. Northern claimed this would reduce the amount of time spent at stations and enable staff to be more visible and available to customers.

But unions say the on-board conductor or guard has a much better view of the doors to prevent people getting trapped.

The RMT is fighting to keep the role of guards on every service, also arguing that many jobs are likely to be lost if the driver-only plan goes ahead.

Guards are considered important as they can take charge if the driver becomes incapacitated. Or in the event of an accident, anti-social behaviour or a terrorist attack, they can call for help or reassure passengers.

Safety on trains has already been a topic of discussion over recent years. In 2012, alcohol was banned on Scottish trains in the evenings and mornings in response to concerns about anti-social behaviour.

The Department for Transport has insisted that driver-controlled trains, which have been used in this country for 30 years on some services, are safe.

It provided some facts to support its case, saying that a customer is 10 times more likely to be killed by lightning than when getting on or off a train. It added that the risk of death or serious injury from train despatch of any sort was miniscule, at one in 850 million journeys.

“Britain’s railways are the safest in Europe,” a spokesman said. “Analysis, based purely on incidents and risk data, shows that safety concerns are, to say the least, overstated.”