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Two-day Southern strike begins

Southern passengers face further delays today as a 48-hour strike by the RMT begins, forcing the company to cancel services on 12 routes and run a reduced service on five others.

The strike is the fifth this year, driven by RMT’s ongoing opposition to Southern’s proposals to introduce driver-only operated (DOO) services, where train guards do not have the power to operate doors.

Campaigners from Disabled People Against the Cuts will join RMT strikers today, arguing that the proposals are a breach of the Equality Act 2010 because passengers may not receive assistance getting off a train if there are no staff on board or at the station.

A spokesperson said: “After 30 years of commitment, effort and public expenditure to ensure that disabled people can travel by train, as by other modes, with confidence, we risk taking a significant retrograde step that will effectively deny people those hard-won rights. That is simply unacceptable.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “Reports from all locations this morning confirm  that the strike action is rock solid and determined again across the Southern Rail network as we fight to put rail safety and access before the profits of the failed Govia Thameslink operation. Just a fraction of the £100m in cash hoarded by this outfit could keep the guards on the trains, keep the trains safe and resolve this dispute.

“This action has been forced on us by the arrogance and inaction of Govia Thameslink and the government who have made it clear that they have no interest in resolving this dispute or in tackling the daily chaos on Southern.

“RMT's fight is with the company and the government who have dragged this franchise into total meltdown. We share the anger and frustration of passengers and we cannot sit back while jobs and safety are compromised on these dangerously overcrowded trains.”

Southern has been forced to cancel 341 services a day in order to get control of the franchise, and its parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), has a lower PPM than any other company.

Delays on the line are so bad that the Association of British Commuters is now seeking judicial review of the government’s handling of the franchise.

Alex Foulds, Southern’s passenger director, said: “This two-day strike will achieve nothing. After many months of trying to reach agreement with the RMT, we are now moving forward with our plans for the benefit of customers and we urge the RMT to join us in putting passengers first.”

DOO was recently found to be safe by the Rail Safety and Standards Board.

Southern has made a new offer to RMT, including a promise to have a second staff member on as many trains as possible, but this was rejected.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: "This week's strike will cause more misery for thousands of passengers. We know that there are no risks to jobs or pay, and drivers have been closing train doors safely elsewhere on the railway for the last three decades.

"The rail industry must modernise to deliver the better service today's customers expect and deserve. The proposed changes would mean a better on-board service for customers and less disruption to services when problems occur."

(Image c. RMT)

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J   07/09/2016 at 18:51

Is the statement "£100m in cash hoarded" deliberately deceptive or ignorant? Firstly the £100m is before tax, so that potentially taxes away £20m straight away. Secondly profits are vital to keep the business running. They are needed for renewals. No profit means no new buses means business closes down. Re: "passengers may not receive assistance getting off a train if there are no staff on board or at the station." Yes, these are some legitimate concerns over this. But what proportion of these trains current with a guard/conductor likely to operate without? The aim is zero. The reality will be some, but what is the GTR's estimate of number of occasions? I don't mean to discriminate against those who need assistance but at the moment if the guard/conductor isn't available (for whatever reason) then the train does not run. In future it will. So at certain stations at few passengers may need to wait for the next train, whereas at the moment 100% of passengers have to wait for the next train. It also means that when the second train does arrive it will be less crowded so the person needing assistance will probably have a better journey. The people protesting are effectively saying that the train has to be cancelled because there is non-one to help a person needing assistance. Surely this is the equivalent of the toilets having to be removed for every Class 153 train in 2020 because it’s not viable to fit PRM-compliant ones.

Jerry Alderson   07/09/2016 at 19:07

There needs to be a sense of proportion about how many persons of restricted mobility (PRM) will be impacted. As well as the proportion of trains where the rostered on-board supervisor is not available to do their role, how many of the PRM passengers will be travelling (possibly on their own) to/from an unstaffed station where they cannot board/alight without use of a ramp. Station compliance (e.g. Harrington humps) is increasing, albeit too slowly. The impact will decrease over time.

Neil Palmer   08/09/2016 at 02:21

J, With Mick Cash that statement is both deliberately deceptive and ignorant. Apart from tax that £100m is also for the whole Govia group, not just Southern (which is, as you may guess, is losing profit and inconveniencing passengers, thanks largely to Mick Cash & the RMT) but also includes, Thameslink, Great Northern, Gatwick Express, Southeastern and London Midland. The concern about passengers not receiving assistance getting off a train if there are no staff on board or at the station is also a red herring as GTR have promised as many on board staff as there are today. The RMT are refusing the offer because they want to maintain the power to bring services to a halt by having only the guard control the doors. Something no hard pressed commuter wants. It’s not about safety, it’s about the RMT keeping the power to bring services to a halt, and to hell with the passengers. Driver control of doors also reduces station dwell times, which is essential to increasing network capacity and keeping trains running to schedule.

Gabriel Oaks   08/09/2016 at 08:19

With DOO the issue of mobility impaired passengers tends towards train performance rather than inability to travel. If that passenger cannot board then the driver will have to shutdown the cab to go and provide assistance. Yes, it might significantly add to the dwell time but ultimately if the passenger requiring assistance is preventing the doors from closing then the train cannot be dispatched. Furthermore for passengers struggling to leave the train the pascom can operated. The use of the pascom is also recommended by some TOCS (at least) for wheelchair users struggle to access the train's accessible toilet because it is obstructed by cycles parked opposite (under RVAR and the Equality Act they have a right to use this facility). As a wheelchair user I have (to date) not been left behind or unable to leave a train. At the present it is the RTM that is preventing me from travelling upon the trains the Southern cannot run along my local railway line.

Jerry Alderson   08/09/2016 at 17:35

Gabriel: I am really interesting in hearing the experiences of a wheelchair user on the railway. Glad to know everything has worked out for you to date. I was a temporary PRM a few months back and wrote an article about it. Neil is correct that the RMT's private concern (elephant in the room, if you like) is that it will be unable to prevent trains running through strike action and its bargaining power will be reduced (though not lost completely). GTR has promised to roster an OBS on every train where there is a guard/conductor today, but will go without them if they are unavailable (list of scenarios to be agreed between GTR and RMT).

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