The breakdown of the Southern train network is ‘becoming a national crisis’, one Sussex MP has warned.
The RMT union’s tenth strike of 2016 started this morning (Tuesday December 6), while train drivers’ union ASLEF’s ban on overtime working also begins today.
Both actions are in response to rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway’s proposals to bring in driver-only operation on Southern services, where drivers will be responsible for opening and closing train doors.
Lewes MP Maria Caulfield has said the ongoing problems with Southern are ‘now so serious it is becoming a national crisis’.
The operator has warned that on RMT strike days only around half of services will operate, while during ASLEF walkouts no Southern trains may run at all.
Ms Caulfield said: “This is completely unacceptable and it is why I have today supported Caroline Lucas MP in her urgent question to the Transport Secretary.
“I have demanded that the Secretary of State intervene and get both Southern and the unions back round the table and use the mediation services of ACAS to resolve this dispute once and for all.
“I have also emphasised that constituents cannot be left without a train or replacement bus service for days at a time between now and mid-January.
“It is unacceptable that almost 70,000 people in my constituency will be stranded because of industrial action, thousands of people put at risk of losing their jobs and local businesses put in danger of going under because of this.”
The Lewes MP believes that if Southern cannot resolve this dispute and run a rail service, which many have already paid for, then they need to put on buses across the entire network.
If they cannot do that then the Government has a duty to get this sorted.
Ms Caulfield added: “It is ultimately their contract and if the Government need to call in the army to get people where they need to go then that’s what they should do.
“It would be a terrible shame if Sussex MPs were unable to make it in to parliament for the next few weeks because we are unable to travel to and from work like our constituents.”
This morning Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT, 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 its demand for [Transport Secretary] 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.”
In the House of Commons yesterday (Monday December 5), rail minister Paul Maynard said: “I expect both GTR and Network Rail to address these underlying performance issues, but they can only do so if they are not faced with unwarranted, unjustifiable industrial action.”
He explained the strike action was ‘politically motivated and has affected passengers for far too long’, but passengers ‘want and deserve improvements’.
Alex Foulds, passsenger services director at Southern, 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.”
The RMT is holding three day strikes starting Tuesday December 6 and Saturday December 31, and a two-day strike starting Monday December 19.
Meanwhile members of ASLEF are due to walkout on Tuesday December 13 and Wednesday December 14, Friday December 16, and from Monday January 9 to Friday January 14.
GTR has applied to the High Court to stop the ASLEF strikes, with the hearing likely to be heard next week.
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