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Rail conductors' strike causes travel chaos

Published 18/05/2016

Southern Railway services will face disruption during the strike.
Southern Railway services will face disruption during the strike.

A strike by hundreds of rail conductors has caused travel chaos for passengers, with the threat of further industrial action to come.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Southern Railway staged a 24-hour walkout in a bitter row over the role of conductors.

There was no service on some routes and a limited number of trains between 7.30am and 6pm on others, with around a third of Southern's 2,100 services cancelled.

Passengers on some of the country's busiest routes faced miserable journeys to and from work, especially commuter routes to London Victoria.

The RMT said the walkout was solidly supported by conductors, maintaining they had received backing from members of the public.

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, warned the dispute could spread to staff facing job losses with the closure of more than 80 ticket offices.

"Our members are clearly upset and angry that the overwhelming public support for keeping these offices open has been ignored by Southern. Unless these proposals are scrapped, we could very soon find ourselves in dispute on this issue.

"If this is really about improving the service, the company must start listening to the people who know, passengers and staff, not the bean counters just concerned with higher profits," he said.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: "Our guard members on Southern are solid and determined and the union welcomes the support from the travelling public as they recognise that this dispute is about defending safety-critical jobs and services against the drive for cash-driven cuts that would see those services hacked to ribbons.

"With commuters paying thousands of pounds a year for their annual tickets on Southern, there can be no explanation for the removal of the guards other than a central obsession in the boardroom for putting increased profits above public safety."

Southern maintains conductors will remain on trains but responsibility for closing doors will switch to drivers.

Charles Horton, chief executive officer of Southern's parent group Govia Thameslink, said: "This pointless and unnecessary action by the RMT causes enormous disruption for the 300,000 people we carry on their commute every day."

Dyan Crowther, chief operating officer of Govia Thameslink, said: "Despite repeated efforts over six months, the RMT seem unwilling to talk properly about this. Our door remains open to talks but they seem determined to inflict another day of misery on Southern commuters.

"The only thing that changes is the new conductors will no longer close the doors, a task that passes to the driver with the aid of CCTV. This will cost no-one their jobs, and frees up staff on board trains to better serve passengers.

"We wholeheartedly agree with our passengers who want staff to remain on trains and that's exactly why as many services will have staff on board as they do today.

"Our on-board staff will have a better role which better meets the needs of passengers, securing their valued position on the railway for the long term."

Southern said it was untrue that it was planning to remove guards from trains or that safety was under threat by extending driver-only trains.

:: Great Western services were disrupted after an electrical problem caused a small fire on a train between Oxford and London Paddington.

The RMT said the on-board guard helped tackle the incident, highlighting the importance of their safety-critical role.

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