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Southern conductors strike over driver-only trains

Cancellations, delays and queues can be expected along the Southern network today as conductors went on strike in protest at plans to introduce driver-operated only (DOO) trains.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which owns Southern, said that the strikes would lead to no service on many routes, limited services between 7.30am and 6.00pm on others, and queuing systems being introduced at stations. They said they couldn’t guarantee that customers would reach their destinations.

Members of the RMT trade union voted overwhelmingly in favour of the strike, which starts today at 11am and runs for 24 hours, on the grounds that eliminating train conductors threatens passenger safety. They are also due to strike on 10 May and 12 May.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “Let us be crystal clear – this dispute is about safety and the safety-critical role of the guards on Southern trains.

“The company, with an eye on ever-fatter profits, is prepared to axe the guards on some of the most overcrowded and potentially-dangerous services in Britain so that they can squeeze every last penny out of their passengers regardless of the consequences. That is a lethal gamble with safety in the name of profit and that is why we have been forced to take strike action.”

He also accused the company of “trying to bully and intimidate” staff in a letter from Charles Horton, the CEO of GTR, which threatened actions including taking travel passes from staff family members.

Dyan Crowther, chief operating officer of GTR, said: “We absolutely refute that driver-only operation is unsafe: it’s a method that has been familiar to the network for 30 years.

“We’re introducing a new train fleet and technology to evolve the role of the conductor on board: we want to free the conductor from doing the door duties so they can finish the transactions. The main driving reason is customer service.”

Drivers from the Aslef union also refused to drive DOO GTR trains on the Gatwick Express route, but were forced to comply for now after GTR obtained an injunction from the High Court.

The disruptions are as follows:

No service

  • Clapham Junction to Milton Keynes via Kensington Olympia
  • Dorking to Horsham
  • Oxted to Uckfield
  • Haywards Heath to Lewes
  • Preston Park to Hove
  • Lewes to Seaford
  • Eastbourne to Ashford International via Hastings (Southeastern services will operate between St Leonards Warrior Square and Hastings as normal)
  • Chichester to Havant/ Portsmouth Harbour and Southampton Central (South West Trains and Great Western Railway services will operate between Havant and Portsmouth Harbour/Southampton Central as normal)
  • Redhill to Tonbridge
  • Redhill to Reigate (Great Western Railway services will operate on this route as normal)
  • Earlswood, Salfords and Faygate stations will not be served

Limited service between 7.30am and 6.00pm

A reduced service will also run between London and Brighton.

Southern are also offering full refunds to passengers who decide not to travel on the strike days.

(Image c. Dominic Lipinski from PA Wire)


Jerry Alderson   26/04/2016 at 12:20

I remember once being served by the conductor, having handed my credit card, and she left me, walked off completely out of sight to open the doors, check the platform and close the doors. Three minutes later she came back to continue serving me, thankfully still with my credit card. I would not allow somone in a restaurant to walk off with my crediut card, but she could have copied the details in that time. That woud not happen if the conductor did not have to worry about the doors as htey woudl put customer service first.

Tilly S   26/04/2016 at 12:58

Disabled people already have great difficulty using trains, removal of guards will make this worse due to un-manned stations and lack of automatic ramps on trains. Even some lifts are switched OFF when the station is unmanned and there is NO alternative entrance. This is the 21st Century, disabled people should have as much independence and equality as possible, WITHOUT assistance from others. Many people now use Mobility Scooters that have to cope with uneven pavements, tracks, etc, currently everything seems designed around manual wheelchairs and/or small motorised wheelchairs and Scooters. The toilets and disabled areas are also in a stupid place, right over a bogie, hard enough for an able bodied person to use !! The the Disabled HAVE to endure the stench every time the doors open. In ONE carriage provide auto ramps at ALL DOORS, 'driver alert points' so they know disabled people wish to disembark, make the area between doors the disabled and Toilet area, giving them and NOT cyclist the priority !! Widen the gaps between the door lobbies and the body of the carriage, even the most capable find negotiating them !! Sorry to go off topic slightly, but it helps give weight to the reasons for KEEPING GUARDS until the Disabled are consulted and listened to and proper access to public transport is provided, similar applies to Buses !!

Neil Palmer   26/04/2016 at 20:53

Let's get one thing clear, this is NOT about removing guards from trains and this is NOT about safety, despite the usual lies, half-truths and deception from Luddite Mick Cash and the RMT. GTR/Southern have promised NO staff will lose their jobs, and NO staff will suffer a cut in pay. The RMT wants to continue 19th century working practices in the 21st century. Cameras above the doors make it perfectly safe for the driver to open, AND CLOSE, the doors. Apparently Mick Cash still lives in Victorian times and hasn't heard of the invention of cameras. Well, actually I'm sure he has, but he and the RMT cry wolf so often playing the safety card that no one would believe them if they actually did raise a genuine safety concern. Jerry's point about the guard having to wander off to deal with the doors is just one example of why trains can suffer delay at stations, increasing dwell time and reducing capacity on the network. There is no need for that, and the argument wears very thin when other trains (Thameslink) on many of the same lines have the driver in charge of the doors. Southern wants to have the guards spend MORE time with passengers, not less. The RMT want to perpetuate their cozy little arrangement where on many trains the guard comes out to open/close the doors, then goes and hides away in the rear driving compartment with his newspaper and cup of tea until the next station. Southern rightly thinks passengers personal safety would be enhanced if instead the guard was freed from the tough job of opening and closing the doors (face it, it doesn't require a university degree to see if anyone is in the doorways, and then press a button) to spend more time wandering through the train interacting with passengers and checking tickets. Of course the staff will still be there to perform or assist with any safety related functions if needed. continued...

Neil Palmer   26/04/2016 at 20:54

...continued Also, on the rare occasion where a guard is unavailable for a service, but the driver is available, would you rather the train be cancelled, or run with only the driver? The obvious answer there is you'd rather get where you want to go, and even if the train operator might suffer loss of income from anyone traveling without a valid ticket on that service they would still rather it ran and not have to cancel it and inconvenience passengers. Of course you know where the RMT stand on that, they couldn't care less if you get where you need to go as is evidenced by calling yet another pointless strike. And one final point on the usual misdirection and deception of the RMT. Mick Cash knows damn well that his claim that GTR "with an eye on ever-fatter profits, is prepared to axe the guards on some of the most overcrowded and potentially-dangerous services in Britain" is an outright lie. As stated before the company has guaranteed no one will lose their jobs. He also knows very well that GTR are only doing this because they are being forced to by the DfT who, rightly, think it's time the operating practices of the railways moved from the 1800's into the 2000's.

Andrew Gwilt   26/04/2016 at 22:39

This is going to be some months of hell for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and for Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) alongside Gatwick Express.

Jerry Alderson   06/05/2016 at 13:59

Although I wouldn't have used the robust style of Neil Palmer's response he is completely accurate on GTR's position to my knowledge. Yes, the DfT call the shots, and it is they who get the revenue. GTR is a concession not a franchise and has little freedom to do anything (other than perhaps their logo and people's uniforms). The Treasury/DfT takes all the revenue and GTR, which is paid a small fee, is told by the state how much they can spend. No passenger will lose out under these changes. It is NOT BR-style driver-only presence, which is what I am used to on Great northern (and actually quite happy with 99% of the time), but driver plus customer service represtative (CSR) both doing what they are best at - one in charge of the train and the other serving passengers. The one reservation I have is that an operator could rely on rest-day working for cover for holidays and illness and too may trains may not have a CSR on board. The way to deal with this is not to prevent the train from running but for the TOC to have to pay the money it saved into a fund for enhancements.

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