The national rail watchdog has given qualified backing to Southern’s controversial proposals for driver only operation (DOO).
However despite fresh calls for talks as a result of the new report, it is unclear whether ministers and unions will actually sit down together.
The ASLEF and RMT unions accepted an invitation for talks from Chris Grayling without agreeing to the transport secretary’s request for them to call off strikes.
The report from Ian Prosser, chief inspector of railways at the Office of Rail and Road, said that ‘with suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff in place, the proposed form of train dispatch intended by GTR-Southern meets legal requirements for safe operation’.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of drivers’ union ASLEF, pointed out that Southern had conceded the safety measures Mr Prosser had recommended were not currently in place.
And RMT general secretary Mick Cash described the report as ‘a complete whitewash that proves conclusively that the Office of Rail and Road is no longer fit for purpose and is nothing more than an arm of Government’.
However, he wrote to Mr Grayling to say that he was happy to meet him ‘at your earliest convenience’.
Mr Whelan told Mr Grayling: ‘Your offer does not provide a rationale for my union to call off next week’s strike. Nonetheless, I remain willing to meet you at any time.’
Mr Grayling said: ‘This is a powerful report from the independent rail regulator that confirms that Southern’s plans for driver-controlled trains are safe.
‘This report should provide an opportunity for both sides to get back round the table for talks to put an end to this dispute, which is causing misery for hundreds of thousands of passengers.’
Transport Network approached the DfT for clarification as to whether Mr Grayling’s offer was conditional on the unions calling off industrial action.