THOSE who use the railways for commuting or for personal travel are looking forward with trepidation to the upcoming series of strikes being called by rail unions over the weekends leading up to Christmas.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers says that it is opposed to the alleged intention of West Midlands Trains to introduce ‘driver only operation’ trains, without guards or conductors.

They make a good case too, saying that without on-board staff the safety of customers might be jeopardised.

However, those who have had the pleasure of travelling on the Docklands Light Railway in London will know that at least some kind of mass transportation can be operated not only without on-train staff, but without drivers as well.

However, West Midlands Trains have expressly denied that they are planning driver only operation, which rather seems to negate the union's stated reason for taking industrial action.

The RMT has wisely decided not to strike on weekdays, which would antagonise thousands of commuters, and probably lose them a lot of sympathy.

Nonetheless, the weekend rail users are likely to be less than impressed over the coming weeks.

Many people who work during the week will have been looking forward to a trip up to Birmingham on a Saturday or Sunday, to see the city's justly-famous German-style Christmas market. Now they will have to forego the pleasure altogether, or take the car up, increasing road congestion.

Perhaps the union is hoping that the Birmingham civic authorities, fearing the loss of pre-Christmas revenue, will put pressure on West Midlands Trains to settle the dispute on terms favourable to them.

There is no doubt that the regional rail system in the West Midlands needs improvements; Worcester News readers have in recent days shared some stories of horrific overcrowding on some services.

But that is a matter that can only be tackled by the purchase of sufficient rolling stock and, equally as important, its deployment on the routes where it is most needed.

That must be the priority that all associated with West Midlands Trains must work towards together.

In the face of that, the weekend strikes coming up between now and Christmas seem rather futile.