A TRAIN company that serves Crewe in Cheshire has been criticised for a "cynical and shocking stunt" after sending an email to staff promising the front line workers a bonus only to later reveal it was a cyber security test.

West Midlands Trains (WMT) emailed staff to tell them they would get a financial reward for their "hard work" during the Covid pandemic.

Staff were invited to click on a link for "information of your one-off payment".

But the company sent a further email to those who opened the link, explaining that "this was a test designed by our IT team".

A union described it as "crass and reprehensible behaviour".

WMT said the first message was designed to mimic tactics used by criminal gangs to try to get a company's data.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) union, said the firm could have used any other security test.

He called on the operator to apologise and deliver on the bonus to staff who "have made real sacrifices these past 12 months".

Mr Cortes said: "This was a cynical and shocking stunt by West Midlands Trains, designed to trick employees who have been on the front line throughout this terrible pandemic, ensuring essential workers were able to travel.

"It's almost beyond belief that they chose to falsely offer a bonus to workers who have done so much in the fight against this virus.

"Some WMT staff have caught the disease at work, one has tragically died, and others have placed family members at great risk."

A spokesman for WMT, the parent company of West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern Railway, said: "We take cybersecurity very seriously, providing regular training on the subject and we run exercises to test our resilience.

"Fraud cost the transport industry billions of pounds every year.

"This important test was deliberately designed with the sort of language used by real cyber criminals but without the damaging consequences."