Train operator Northern has told its staff – including guards whose roles are under threat – that they are a first line of defence against terrorism.

The message was sent to the firm's 5,700 strong workforce just 36 hours before a strike that was part of the ongoing dispute over plans to halve the number of guards on the firm's trains, which operate across Cumbria.

The RMT rail workers' union which has held another strike today, says it is astonished by the message.

The union's regional official Craig Johnston accused Northern bosses of planning to axe the very roles that the firm's security-themed email appears to be acknowledge are a vital part of efforts to keep passengers safe.

In the message, bosses tell Northern staff: “Following recent terrorist attacks, which we have witnessed in the UK and across Europe, it is a timely reminder that the safety and security of our customers and colleagues remains the responsibility of us all.

“The Northern family numbers in excess of 5,700 colleagues, each and every one of whom are the first line of defence against the preparation and delivery of such an attack.”

The message goes on to advise workers on how they can help thwart a terror attack such as the one that claimed 52 lives in London on July 7, 2005, when four terrorists targeted the city's public transport network.

“It's a classic example of them saying one thing and doing another,” said Mr Johnston of the Northern message.

“They're proposing a 50 per cent reduction in the number of guards on trains but these staff perform safety critical roles.

“There are over 1,000 guards working for Northern and while they are saying they will guarantee them some sort of a job they're also saying that 50 per cent of their services will be driver only.

“There are multiple reasons why the guard's role is vital.

“Firstly, their opertional safety role is important: they're trained in evacuation procedures; if a driver is incapacitated they step in to protect the train and other lines; and they are also there to ensure accessibility.

“They are also there to provide reassurance and security for passengers, which at a time of rising antisocial behaviour and the increased terror threat is more important than ever.

“Taking them off trains is just the most ridiculous idea.

“You can have train stations protected, but if you take staff away from trains who is going to protect the trains and passengers?”

Figures obtained by the News & Star reveal that several Northern stations in the county last year saw a rise in on-train crime.

At Carlisle, the number of on-train crimes rose to 39 (up from 37) the previous year, though on-station crime fell to 55 compared to 70 in 2015. The number of on-train crimes in Barrow fell slightly, though crime at the station rose dramatically – up to 16, compared to just 4 recorded crimes in the previous year.

Millom also saw a slight rise in crime, with two offences recorded last year compared to none in the previous year.

A spokesman for Northern, said: “The safety and security of our customers is paramount.

“Any changes we want to make to services or our stations are fully risk assessed, widely consulted upon, and approved in accordance with relevant legislation.

“Our modernisation plans will see staff more visible than ever before on trains and stations, helping and supporting customers. This is why we are keen for RMT to work with us to develop these plans together, not take unnecessary strike action.”

Passengers across Cumbria faced widespread disruption during last Friday's strike, with around half of the usual services running. That disruption is likely to have been repeated during today's strike.

The RMT says there has been “solid” support for its industrial action. Both sides in the dispute say they are willing to continue talking.