Train drivers have been ‘forced’ to go on strike by the intransigence of Southern management, union ASLEF has claimed.
The first of this week’s three strikes by train drivers began today (Tuesday January 10) with walkouts also planned tomorrow (Wednesday) and Friday as part of a dispute with Govia Thameslink Railway over the introduction of driver-only operation on Southern services.
No Southern trains will run but Thameslink and Gatwick Express services will be in operation, while the rail operator is organising 200 coaches/buses each day to provide road links for essential travel from nine Southern stations.
However it is advising passengers that capacity on the buses will be limited and journey times will take much longer. Ticket acceptance on other operators’ transport has been put in place (full list on www.southernrailway.com).
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, said: “We greatly regret the industrial action we have taken on Southern Railways today.
“We don’t want to inconvenience passengers, nor do our members want to lose money, because we want to help build a better railway for Britain.
“But we have been forced to go on strike by an intransigent management that has not been prepared to negotiate with us.”
He added: “We still hope that Southern will see sense and sit down with us and talk about how we can move forward in away which works for passengers, for staff, and, yes, for the company, too. Our door is, and has always been, open.
“It’s now up to the company, and the government, to be flexible and to end the misery of commuters. The ball is in their court.”
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.
“The unions’ response is utterly disproportionate, causing misery to 300,000 passengers a day across the South East and untold damage to the regional economy.
“This dispute is pointless. The unions claim this is about safety, but Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Railways has carried out a thorough and robust review and has ruled what we are doing is safe. It is now time the union stopped abusing their power to call unjustified strikes and join us in delivering a modern railway for everyone.”
A report by the Office and Rail and Road published last week concluded that the proposed form of train dispatch ‘meets legal requirements and can be operated safely’.
But Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT, which has also held strikes in response to plans to transfer conductors to the role of on-board supervisors, labelled the report a ‘complete whitewash’ that proved the ORR is ‘not fit for purpose’.
He said: “RMT has no confidence in ORR whatsoever and will continue the fight for safety on Southern and across our railways.”
A spokesman for the ORR responded: “ORR is an independent, evidence based regulator. Our report was produced following a thorough review of all proposed and existing processes, as well as site inspections. We have worked with unions as well as GTR-Southern during this process and are continuing to do so.”
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