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Southern grinds to a halt as another strike begins

Southern has cancelled all trains again as another three days of drivers’ strikes by Aslef began.

In revised action, the union will strike today, tomorrow and Friday, after initially announcing non-stop strikes from 9 to 14 January, in protest at Southern’s roll-out of driver-only operation (DOO), where train guards are unable to open doors.

In response, Southern cancelled all rail services. It is providing buses from a small number of stations to allow passengers to access other rail companies, but warned passengers that these would be very busy and should only be used for essential travel. Crowd control measures will be in place at all stations where buses or trains will operate.

Angie Doll, Southern’s passenger service director, said: “Once again we wish to remind our passengers not to attempt to travel unless it is absolutely necessary on this week’s strike days.

“There will also be significant disruption and hardship on the days Aslef is not on strike because of their overtime ban, especially on Thursday when trains will be out of position because of the strikes on each day either side. We are deeply sorry for the unnecessary and unwarranted disruption this dispute is causing.”

She called the strike “utterly disproportionate” and “pointless”, given that DOO has been judged safe by the ORR.

Following the ORR’s recent report, Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, asked the regulator to draw up a national safety framework for DOO dispatch.

Industrial action in the DOO dispute, began by RMT and joined by Aslef after it defeated efforts by Southern’s parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to obtain an injunction, has contributed to serious disruption on Southern, with GTR’s PPM falling to 61.9%.

RMT and GTR announced yesterday that they had agreed to fresh talks to try to reach a resolution, while Grayling has invited unions to meet with him directly. Members of the British Chamber of Commerce are also talking to Grayling and rail minister Paul Maynard to try to resolve the issue because of the disruption caused to businesses in the south east.

“It is now time the union stopped abusing their power to call unjustified strikes and join us in delivering a modern railway for everyone,” Doll added.

(Image c. Kirsty O'Connor from PA Wire and PA Images)

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Terryk   10/01/2017 at 12:08

This is purely a Political action, nothing to do with who presses the button, The Unions are still reeling from Brexit.

Gabriel Oaks   10/01/2017 at 13:41

The unions have failed to provide robust evidence that safety is compromised by DOO. Accordingly their actions cannot be considered as reasonable and they should not be afforded the protection given by the 1906 Trade Disputes Act. Time for an amendment to that act.

Leah Gaze   10/01/2017 at 15:07

I'm very unhappy with these train strikes I have started my nursery apprenticeship 10 months ago and I have to go to college on Mondays and tuesdays in Totton I need to catch the bus and need to keep my attendance up or I'll loose my job ! You need to Sort these strikes out its stupid every bloody week now!

Andrew Gwilt   10/01/2017 at 15:09

I think that Southern Rail aka Southern Fail should be stripped from its franchise and blame them for causing delays and misery to passengers that commute to/from Surrey, Sussex and South London and to/from London Victoria, London Bridge and MK Central/Watford Junction.

Jerry Alderson   10/01/2017 at 15:24

Last night I watched the pre-recorded BBC South East special 30-minute Southern Rail Crisis programme (shown on Monday 9th Jan) with a panel of four and a studio audience. I have to say that GTR CEO Charles Horton was visibly shaking during the introductions - he clearly doesn't feel comfortable in these situations. Personally I thought the RMT representative saying that the guard/conductor cares about passengers was complete rubbish. My experience across much of the network is that they hide in the rear cab far too much and I am lucky if I ever see them walk through the train more than once (if at all) on any journey. They certainly do not look after me. (The exception being Greater Anglia, where they often do so after every station call.) In the BBC programme the issue with GTR and RTM was over the word "guarantee" re: the OBS being on board. As we all (should) know, the elephant in the room is that the RMT wants to be able to bring all trains to a stop when it goes on strike. Neither the govenment nor GTR (and especially not the RMT) will publicly say this. Because the RMT doesn't want a single train to ever carry a passenger without an RMT member being on board (which is what ScotRail agreed to after RMT went on strike) then there is no compromise that GTR/DfT can offer to RMT that will be accepted. This issue for ASLEF is much easier to address. The drivers' main concern is being held responsible for any accidents that the guard/condcutor would have been punished for instead. They do not put it as bluntly as "I'm all right, Jack" of course. The number of those scenarios are miniscule and unlikely to affect many drivers in their career. On Friday night I spoke to a retired very senior BR manager who was heavily involved in implementing 'pure' DOO. He said that at the time it was resolved easily by offering ASLEF more money but this currently does not appear to be an option. I can understand this now that fully-trained ASLEF drivers now receive 'white collar' £50k+ salaries - hugely more than in BR days.

Steve B Collins   10/01/2017 at 15:36

@Andrew Gwilt: are you just parroting someone else or have you a good reason for saying this? Southern Rail does not exist as a business. That is GTR. Southern is only one of four brands under the GTR 'concession'. So, are you asking GTR to be removed from Great Northern, which has a few minor problems but nothing serious, or Thameslink, which has never been perfect but is not noticeable worse than FCC was? Or are you simply asking for the Southern services to be stripped out of GTR and given to someone else to run? Also, can you tell us how removing GTR will change anything when it has simply been carrying out what the DfT contractually required it to so? Introducing the OBS role was announced prior to GTR taking over on 14 September 2014. GTR is totally responsible for not having sufficient drivers 28 months after taking over from FCC and 18 months after subsuming Southern. It defintlely deserves critisism for that and for various management failings. Network Rail is responsible for much of the disruption of scheduled services, not least by the works at London Bridge. Whoever ran the TOC would have suffered many of the problems. Also, the £20m government gave to improve things was mainly given to NR to fix underlying problems behind points failures etc.

Mark   10/01/2017 at 16:37

Agree with earlier comments. Best thing is to SACK every staff member on strike, then re-employ with contracts expressively forbidding strikes. DOO works everywhere else. Maybe the answer is to build trains and rebuild tracks for automatic driverless trains....

Ken Cropley   10/01/2017 at 17:52

I have travelled on DOO trains on the Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria route for many years. 12 car formations operate during peak hours. How can this be safe on my route but not on Southern? Drivers have plenty of platform cameras and mirrors to check the doors.

Jerry Alderson   10/01/2017 at 19:14

"Maybe the answer is to build trains and rebuild tracks for automatic driverless trains." I would love to see this. I am a great believer in automation where possible - my working life has been focused on this but it is a challenge to get right - though the fixed tracks makes it only a fraction as difficult as autonomous vehicles on the roads. In Germany in 2015/16 Deutsche Bahn had a protracted dispute with their Lokführeren (train drivers) and their CEO publicly proclaimed in autumn 2016 plans for 'driverless' trains on the mainline by 2023 with trials possibly starting in 2021. On Metro systems the main change needed is platform doors, which have been introduced on the Jubilee line anbd wil be on Crossrail - but they need to be along the entire route. It will be interesting to see how moving the Glasgow Subway to UTO (GoA4) progresses and whether it will be achieved in 2020. Metros are simpler systems as they are isolated - no level crossings. That's one of the problems to overcome on a mainline railway.

Gabriel Oaks   12/01/2017 at 08:13

If DOO is so unsafe then why... 1. Did Mick Whelan sign a further agreement to operate DOO trains on Thameslink (11th September 2011). 2. Have ASLEF drivers been driving DOO trains on Thameslink for three decades? 3. Do ASLEF drivers drive DOO trains on Southern Metro? 4. Is Mick Whelan travelling to work on LOROL DOO services?

Jerry Alderson   13/01/2017 at 15:44

Trying to answer Gabriel Oaks' questions. Thameslink is 100% 'pure' DOO, therefore the RMT was not involved in any changes (e.g. longer trains, different design). RMT remains involved at stations giving dispatch from platform. So, no change to RMT position (e.g. bargaining power, remuneration, T&Cs, staff numbers etc.) On Southern many RMT members are having their role changed - in my view for the better but that is just a point of view. GTR is promising a lot to RMT (and ASLEF) - and ois increasing staff numbers - but the fact remains that under the OBS role the RMT's bargaining power is reduced. An OBS going on strike would not lead to a train service being axed. I don't dispute that drivers have legitimate technical concerns about the current quality on some trains of CCTV-based decision making for closing doors and departing so that drivers do not have the level of confidence they would like or feel they need. Of course, 'like' and 'need' are not the same thing.

Martin T   14/01/2017 at 22:44

Reading between the lines of what Jerry has written, I think he is saying that ASLEF are going on strike to rescue RMT, which cannot win on its own.

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