The first day in weeks of industrial action on Southern Rail by both conductors and drivers has started with a “rock solid” strike by conductors, as drivers begin their overtime ban.
Brighton and Hove commuters have already suffered months of disruption so bad that the Government has agreed to refund them a month’s travel – but if the action over the next few weeks goes ahead, this looks to become even worse.
As well as a series of conductors’ walkouts called by the RMT union, beginning with a three-day strike this week, driver members of the Aslef union have voted for a string of strikes, plus a ban on overtime beginning today.
An emergency timetable begins today, with trains from Brighton to Seaford cancelled entirely and other services scaled back. If and when drivers strike for three days next Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, Southern services will not run at all and crowd control will have to be implemented at stations along the Brighton mainline.
And as Southern relies on its drivers doing overtime to keep the trains running, the overtime ban is likely to have a significant impact even before the strikes begin, with rail operator GTR warning that when conductors strike too, only 50% of services will run.
The strikes set to continue on selected days every week until mid-January, with either conductors or drivers walking out.
This morning, the RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Our guards members on Southern Rail remain rock solid and absolutely determined in their action in defence of rail safety this morning.
“The union repeats it’s demand for Chris Grayling and his rail minister to get out of their bunker, stop the mud slinging and take up the offer from RMT for direct talks to sort out the worsening crisis on Britain’s biggest rail franchise.
“Tonight we will make another attempt to engage with Mr Grayling when he makes his big speech on breaking up and privatising Network Rail at the private Policy Exchange event.
“Instead of parading around the newsrooms with his lethal scheme to give outfits like Southern a chance to wreck rail infrastructure, as well as our train operations, the Transport Secretary should be in a room with the unions and GTR sorting out the current shambles.”
Southern Director Alex Foulds said: “Regrettably, because of this wholly unnecessary and unjustified industrial action, there will be severe and significant disruption on our network from next Tuesday and customers are advised that stations will be incredibly busy.
“If passengers can make alternative travel arrangements they should, and if they don’t have to travel they shouldn’t. If the drivers’ strikes go ahead, there will be no services on Southern and customers should not attempt to travel.
“We’re doing everything we can to stop the drivers’ strike and that’s why we a seeking an injunction in the High Court next week. This industrial action is a clearly co-ordinated and cynical manoeuvre by the unions to bring yet further travel misery to passengers as well as having a detrimental impact on the regional economy when it least needs it.
“If the unions are listening to passengers then they will call off all industrial action now and give hardworking commuters and their families their lives back.”
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Southern’s parent company, has applied to the High Court to stop the ASLEF strikes, with the hearing likely to be heard next week.
The emergency timetable in brief:
From Tuesday 6 December until further notice:
- West London Line services are all cancelled
- London Bridge – Beckenham Junction services are all cancelled
- Brighton – Seaford services are all cancelled. Buses will operate Lewes – Seaford
- Other metro services will also be reduced.
- Further details will be available on the Southern website www.southernrailway.com later.
If drivers’ strikes take place (first planned date is 13 December) there will be:
- No Southern service
- Gatwick Express every 30 minutes Victoria – Gatwick
- Thameslink will operate normally but be exceptionally busy
- Crowd control arrangements will be in place at stations that have a service
Online journey planners will be updated only 24 hours before the strike date in question. Customers are advised to check regularly for travel updates at southernrailway.com/strike.