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UK train companies have reached an agreement with the country’s largest transport union to end nearly 18 months of strikes across the national rail network.

The RMT union and rail operators on Wednesday said they had developed a “mutually agreed way forward” that would end the national dispute and the threat of strikes over Christmas.

Union members still need to approve the deal via a ballot, but the agreement represents a major breakthrough following nearly a year-and-a-half of damaging walkouts that have hobbled the railways and caused widespread disruption.

The rail industry and government have demanded cost cuts through major reforms of working practices in the face of a sudden fall in revenue following the pandemic.

Wednesday’s agreement would give RMT members a backdated pay rise of 5 per cent for the 2022-23 financial year — with more for the lowest-paid workers — and job security guarantees without the union agreeing to any changes to working conditions.

Instead, the thorny reform agenda would be shunted into next year and tackled at a local level by individual train companies as part of pay talks for the 2023-24 financial year.

Local strikes would therefore still be possible next year but the RMT’s mandate for sweeping national stoppages at 14 train companies would be over if members backed the deal in the electronic ballot, which closes on November 30.

In March, the RMT ended a separate dispute with Network Rail, which runs Britain’s rail infrastructure, after members voted to accept a 9 per cent pay rise over two years.

The Rail Delivery Group, which speaks for train companies, said the agreement would “create a pause and respite from industrial action over the Christmas period and into spring next year”.

Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, described it as a “welcome development”, adding: “Our members will now decide in an e-referendum whether they want to accept this new offer from the RDG.”

The union this year rejected an RDG proposal for a 9 per cent pay rise over two years, which was tied to a major reforms.

The rail industry remains in a separate dispute with drivers’ union Aslef, which has staged regular, disruptive walkouts.

The government said: “We welcome the RMT putting this fair and reasonable offer to its members in a referendum, marking a positive step towards resolving this dispute.

“We hope RMT members will recognise the benefits, accept this offer and put an end to the RMT’s industrial action,” it added.

Last week, transport secretary Mark Harper told train operators to scrap plans for the mass closure of railway ticket offices in England following a public backlash.

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