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Rail strike continues after collapse of talks to resolve wrangle over conductors


Passengers on the concourse at Brighton Railway Station

Passengers on the concourse at Brighton Railway Station

Passengers on the concourse at Brighton Railway Station

Rail workers will continue with a three-day strike after the collapse of talks aimed at resolving a long-running dispute over the role of conductors.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Southern Railway will stay out until midnight tonight, with 11 more days of industrial action planned between now and early December.

Hopes of a breakthrough to the bitter row were short-lived, after a meeting between t he chief executive of Southern's owners Govia Thameslink Railway, Charles Horton, and RMT leader Mick Cash lasted less than an hour.

The two sides continued to blame each other for the deadlock, which threatens more travel misery for hundreds of thousands of rail passengers.

The union also accused the company of "forcing through" driver-only operation so it can have 1,600 trains a day running without a guard by January.

Mr Cash said the union e ntered talks with Mr Horton with every intention of trying to reach an agreement, adding: "I t became clear right from the outset that Mr Horton is refusing to stick by the assurances he gave to the media that he can 'absolutely' guarantee a second member of staff on all current Southern services with a conductor.

"This dispute isn't about who open and closes the doors, it is about that absolute guarantee of a second safety-competent member of staff on these Southern services.

"RMT is angry and frustrated that a golden opportunity to resolve this dispute has been wrecked because Mr Horton has reneged on commitments he has given through the media.

"Passengers will rightly share our anger. The programme of industrial action goes ahead with the union remaining committed to genuine and meaningful talks."

Mr Horton said he made it "crystal clear" to the union that the company was moving forward to implement its proposals and any agreement had to be on the basis of these principles.

He said: "In the space of a week, we've now met twice for face-to-face talks to try and reach agreement but, incredibly, they have absolutely nothing new to say - today, last week, last month - which helps us move forward.

"They raise everyone's hopes by stating they want to end the dispute, but then dash them by their continued head-in-the-sand position.

"In its proposals, Southern has guaranteed that every train which has a conductor today will have a conductor or on board supervisor in the future.

"However, on trains where the driver has full control of the train - if for any reason an on board supervisor is unavailable, we want the flexibility to still run the train for the benefit of our passengers.

"Now what the RMT is asking us to do if that second person is not available, is to guarantee we'll cancel the train. That is simply not an option.

"My number one priority is to introduce these changes to improve the customer service we give our passengers and, after months of horrendous travel misery, get them where they want to be on our trains, safely and on time."

:: Signalling problems and a broken down train caused rail delays in other parts of the country yesterday.

Southern responded to RMT claims that it had deliberately preventing trains from stopping at specific stations to force though driver only operation.

A spokesman said there was a one-off incident at Redhill which was caused by a temporary shortage of staff who would normally assist the driver in dispatching trains.

"When the decision was made not to stop at Redhill, there should have been alternative solutions that would have allowed us to serve the station.

"Since starting the roll-out of our new way of working, we have successfully run at least 2,000 additional trains with the driver in sole control of the train and a second member of staff on board."