A train operator has two weeks to give “cast-iron” assurances that guards will be retained or risk dispute, rail union RMT has said.
Merseyrail plans to introduce a new fleet of 52 driver-only-operated (DOO) trains in Merseyside from 2020.
RMT’s announcement over fears for jobs and safety comes amid the latest strike by train drivers for Southern, over the issue of DOO trains.
Merseyrail said the new trains would be safer and there would be staff onboard.
None of today’s permanent guards or guard managers would be forced to leave Merseyrail’s employment, the company added.
The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said its position on DOO “is perfectly clear… we will not agree to any extensions of DOO and will fight to retain the safety critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train”.
RMT have set a 26 January deadline for assurances about the role of the guards. It has given the same deadline to Arriva Rail North, which trades as Northern.
It fears job cuts and has raised safety concerns, arguing that trains would be less safe because drivers would not be able to see all the passengers while they are boarding and could not provide security during journeys.
Merseyrail has estimated 220 guard and management posts will go but said there would be no compulsory redundancies.
Mr Cash said Merseyrail had failed to provide the union with assurances that “new trains will have a second safety-critical crewmember on board” and “the guard will be retained on all services”, despite being asked “on numerous occasions”.
“If Scotrail, which is run by Abellio, the same franchisee that operates Merseyrail, can introduce new trains with guards, then so can Merseyrail.
“And if Stadler, which is building the Merseyrail trains, can build conventionally operated trains for the Greater Anglia franchise, which is also run by Abellio, then it can build them for Merseyrail,” he added.
A Merseyrail statement said: “The Liverpool city region needs and deserves new trains, which will be modern, safe, faster and comfortable, with more capacity to support the economic growth of a modern city region.
“The new trains will be safer than the ones they replace – and there will still be staff on board focusing on customer duties.”
Merseyrail said it was “surprised and disappointed” at the threat of dispute, adding: “There have been no substantive face-to-face discussions between the two organisations on the question of DCO (driver-controlled operations).”
The latest Southern drivers’ walkout also centres on the role of the guard on trains.
Southern wants to turn guards into supervisors – in this role they would no longer be responsible for opening and closing carriage doors as this duty would become the responsibility of the driver.
The strike finishes at midnight but further strikes have been called for Friday and on 24, 25 and 27 January.