Published: 5th July 2016
Southern Railway has bowed to industrial action pressure and will operate to a reduced timetable in an attempt to reduce impact of union action on passengers.
Southern Railway, operated by Govia Thameslink Railway, has been plagued by industrial action by members of the RMT union. The dispute is about the role of guards changing to conductors and whether the new planed way of operating is safe.
The cancellations have been made to try and create a reliable train service and means that 95% normal capacity at Victoria and 86% of normal capacity at London Bridge should reliably run.
The weekday changes will commence on July 11 in an attempt to reduce the impact on passengers and staff of the daily unpredictable and late notice cancellations caused by what Southern calls ‘unprecedented levels of train crew sickness and unwillingness among others to work overtime’. Southern also says it is working with the Department for Transport (DfT) to offer higher levels of compensation to passengers.
Southern has been forced to cancel large numbers of trains since plans were announced to change the role of guards which would mean rye train driver operates the doors and consequently to change the role of many of its on-board staff.
The revised timetable will mean 341 trains a day will be cancelled but the majority of other services will operate as known resources will be allocated to the busiest lines and times of day and by reducing gaps between trains wherever possible.
Commuters using Victoria will have to make do with a 5% reduction in capacity while those that use London Bridge will lose an average of 15% capacity in the rush hours. But traditionally the summer holiday period sees a reduction in commuters so this might ease the overcrowding slightly also helped by some longer trains being run.
Because there will be less trains, recovery from disruption not caused by Southern should be faster and punctuality may be improved as the network may be less congested.
The reduced train service will continue until train crews work normally and to help this, Southern is returning travel passes back to conductors and restoring the mutual shift swap system which gives them flexibility in their working patterns.
Southern Passenger Services Director Alex Foulds said:
“We are introducing this temporary weekday revised timetable with reluctance but it is the best thing we can do for our passengers who have been suffering daily cancellations ever since this dispute with the RMT began, and for which we are sincerely sorry.
“It should give the majority of our passengers a better, more consistent service that they can plan around.
“Whilst our first priority is our passengers, we also understand that this has been a difficult time for our staff. Conductors already know that their jobs are guaranteed, that there will be no reduction in salary and that the independent rail safety body has confirmed our plans are safe.
“Now, after listening to our staff, we have also decided to restore leisure travel benefits. All of this, we believe, should help our staff feel able to return to work and so reduce the issues causing the current high level of train cancellations.”
The hugely popular cross-London Croydon to Milton Keynes service will be suspended and the Coastway route will have buses running between Seaford and Lewes, Rye and Ashford. A reduced off-peak service between Tonbridge and Redhill will run and Gatwick Express rush hour services are largely unaffected but otherwise less trains will run.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “This is crisis management on Britain's biggest rail franchise, a franchise that is now in terminal meltdown. The continuing attempt to blame this gross mismanagement on the front line staff is a cynical and cowardly ploy by a company who have chosen to wage war on their passengers and workforce alike.
“The managers at GTR pay themselves fat salaries and bonuses, in reward for failure on an epic scale, while the staff on the trains and platforms are left to take the blame for the bosses incompetence. This so called emergency timetable enables Govia to cancel 15% of their trains and rig their appalling performance figures to protect their profits.”
“Instead of conniving with this scandal the Government should fire GTR and immediately instruct the legal, public-sector fall-back operation to take over.”
The RMT officials have agreed that there will be no job losses or pay cuts while Rail Safety Standards Board has confirmed the proposed method of operation is safe having been used for the last few decades.
The union is protesting against the possibility of trains on which drivers would be responsible for the central locking and unlocking of doors.
After several one and two-day strikes by conductors, the union said it intended to call relevant members out on other dates. But first it would talk with the company which has called for talks on Wednesday 6 July. The company hopes to resolve the dispute in negotiations with the RMT.
Proposed new strike days are 10 and 11 July, 14 July and 16 and 17 July. Intending passengers are advised to check train times in advance.
ScotRail has continued to run most of its trains on strike days, although there have been special timetables, especially on diesel routes where trains currently have doors that are controlled by conductors. The RMT seeks reassurances that driver-only operation will not be extended.