Rail passengers in the south are still facing 28 days of strikes from next week and into the new year, as bosses and unions show no signs of resolving the long-running dispute over guards.
The strike will take place every day across South Western Railway (SWR) from next Monday (2 December) up to and including 1 January, with the exception of 12 December (election day), Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
SWR it expects to run more than half its normal Monday to Friday services during the strikes ‘but prioritising providing peak capacity, with the same level of peak services as in previous strikes’.
However, off-peak frequencies will be reduced and buses will replace trains on some routes. Services will finish earlier than normal at around 11pm.
The sticking point in the dispute appears to be the issue over the guard’s role once responsibility for opening and closing train doors has passed to the driver.
Earlier this month it was disclosed that new SWR trains, which will allow drivers to operate doors, will be delayed.
Talks between SWR and the RMT union broke up last week without agreement. An RMT spokesperson told Transport Network that no further talks are planned.
SWR managing director Andy Mellors said: ‘We promise that there will always be a guard on our trains. We also promise our guards will maintain a safety critical role on our trains. We believe that these promises deliver what the RMT has been asking for, so these strikes are unnecessary.’
He added: ‘We will do everything we can to keep customers moving.’
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘We have agreements with First and other companies on new fleet where there is a guard on every train and the driver releases the doors but only closes them on the instruction of the guard when dispatch is completed and passenger safety assured. That is the issue on SWR.
‘The disruption forecast by SWR would be wholly avoidable if the company agreed to further talks with the union around the crucial issue of maintaining passenger safety and accessibility at the platform-train interface during the despatch process.’
Mr Cash also criticised the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for ‘seeking to exploit the issue for their own political purposes’.
The Government is believed to be providing financial assistance to SWR but has refused to confirm this.