A third rail strike in less than two months is set to plunge Southern train services into fresh chaos today (Tuesday June 21).
A limited service is expected to run on routes between London Bridge to East Grinstead, Three Bridges to Chichester, Brighton to Bognor Regis, Brighton to Eastbourne, and London Victoria to Three Bridges from 7.30am and 6pm, and between London Victoria to Three Bridges until 10.30pm, with no services on other routes.
For more information on travel advice today visit Southern’s website.
Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs the Southern franchise, has been embroiled in a dispute with union RMT over the future role of conductors over the past few months, with similar walkouts in April and May.
Since the strikes began services have been severely disrupted by high levels of staff sickness, leading to widespread cancellations on a daily basis.
However the RMT has argued that in many cases these cancellations were down to the company, rather than ‘unofficial action’ by staff.
A spokesman for Southern said: “The simple fact is sickness levels among train crew is very high. Amongst conductors, the latest weekly rate is almost double the average.
“This, combined with reluctance now by drivers at some locations to work overtime on top of their standard four-day working week, is leaving us with a shortfall of train crew.
“The RMT can argue about this all they like. Our focus is on restoring the service we give our passengers. That cannot be achieved by unnecessary strikes, only by sensible dialogue.”
Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT, said the union ‘regrets the further inconvenience to passengers that the action today will cause’.
But he added: “Our message to passengers is that our fight is your fight and that the battle for our jobs today is to protect your safety tomorrow.
“If we stand together we can defeat this company and its attacks on jobs, services and safety.”
Last week GTR’s chief operating officer Dyan Crowther said: “Despite six months of talks, the RMT gave us no practical plan to implement the new role at ACAS – instead we have this announcement of a totally unnecessary strike.
“We now have no option but to confirm the implementation of the new role. This new on-board role will keep people on trains, and re-focus their roles on assisting passengers.
“No-one is losing their job, and as many services will have someone on board as they do today. We know that many passengers are experiencing a poor service at the moment, that’s why we need to bring in these changes as quickly as possible.”
A number of Sussex MPs met the transport secretary last week to discuss the strike action, a delegation led by Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert.
Mr Herbert said: “The RMT strike next week and ongoing levels of staff ‘sickness’ are disruptive and totally unjustified.
“This industrial action has nothing to do with safety, no jobs will be lost and pay will not be cut. There will still be staff on most trains in addition to the drivers, it’s just that they won’t be responsible for opening the doors, which is already the case on many Southern trains anyway.”
GTR BOSSES TO GO BEFORE TRANSPORT COMMITTEE
Meanwhile this week it was revealed that GTR bosses have been summoned to appear before the House of Commons’ Transport Select Committee as part of an inquiry into improving passengers’ experience on the railways.
Nus Ghani, Wealden MP, has repeatedly called for them to go before the committee to answer questions about their long-term failure to provide a standard of service that is acceptable to the many passengers who are constantly affected by disruption.
She wrote to the chair of the committee, Louise Ellman, in both July 2015 and January 2016, requesting that senior members of GTR staff be asked to appear before the committee, and followed this by leading calls for an inquiry in a debate held in March 2016.
Ms Ghani said: “I am pleased and relieved that the Transport Select Committee is finally heeding our calls and asking GTR executives to appear before them to give evidence.
“While the current industrial dispute has led to service failures on a new and wholly unacceptable level, for which I hold the unions responsible, the basic level of service provided by Southern has been unsatisfactory for a long time.
“It is therefore right and proper that those who are ultimately responsible for the service that is provided to passengers are asked searching questions by the Transport Select Committee, the most appropriate public forum for this kind of issue.
“I will be liaising with the committee over the coming days to make sure that they are fully aware of the situation, and the terrible disruption that my constituents have to put up with, before the evidence session takes place next week.”
NEW PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
Just last week two Sussex MPs established a cross-party group to scrutinise the performance of Southern.
Labour MP for Hove Peter Kyle and Tory MP for Mid Sussex Sir Nicholas Soames are set to joint chair an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to meet regularly with the sole purpose of looking into the operational effectiveness and implementation of Southern’s improvement plan.
According to the two MPs Southern has ‘let down passengers repeatedly in recent months’, but in the face of such ‘comprehensive failure’, Sussex politicians have felt unable to deliver a degree of pressure and influence to deliver ‘tangible results our constituents need and deserve’.
Although numerous meetings have been arranged between MPs and rail bosses, promises and assurances have been passed on to constituents ‘only to have been left as disappointed as passengers by Southern’s failure to deliver’.
In a joint statement Sir Nicholas and Mr Kyle said: “Misery is being inflicted upon the people we were elected to serve for no other reason than them needing to get to the office on time, do a hard day’s work, and be home in time to enjoy an evening with their family. It is a grotesque way to run a modern rail service.
“The Southern rail service passes through political boundaries as well as geographical ones and so must our response if we are to represent people effectively.
“That’s why we are working together on this essential service in the hope of offering focussed, ongoing, and robust scrutiny of Southern’s operation and offer passengers the fierce advocacy they so desperately need.”
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