BRITAIN'S fastest train operator - GNER - gave its drivers a 20 per cent pay rise last night.

The deal, which boosts their salaries to £33,000, takes them to the top of the train drivers' wages league.

The deal affects about 250 drivers at GNER, which runs services on the East Coast Main Line, including Hatfield where a derailment in October led to widespread disruption.

The increase puts GNER drivers' pay on a par with Eurostar drivers, who were the industry's biggest earners.

The drivers' union Aslef said it was pressing for all its members to have the same status as airline pilots. An official said the union wanted the GNER deal to become a benchmark for the industry.

He said Aslef would be pressing for similar deals across the country as well as a 35-hour week for all drivers, with no rest-day working or overtime.

"Drivers have similar responsibilities to airline pilots and we welcome the upgrading of status as well as pay."

GNER, which is bidding to have its franchise renewed, is expected to hire more drivers following the agreement with Aslef.

A recent advert by the company, which said it wanted to build a long-term relationship with staff, attracted 900 applications for eight vacancies.

Drivers' pay has been negotiated by individual rail firms since the industry was privatised, with salaries varying from £20,700 to £33,000.