A month of misery for rail commuters

The Fairfax Gallery 2

Southern Railway is cutting 341 trains a day in a revised timetable for a month and has apologised to passengers for weeks of disruption caused by staff shortages and industrial action.

Changes include a reduced off-peak service between Tonbridge and Redhill where passengers for London Victoria will need to change trains.

The company said it was pressing ahead with changing the role of conductors from August, the issue which has sparked a series of strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union.

The union and parent company Govia Thameslink (GTR) disagree over the introduction of more driver-only operated (DOO) services, which includes a change in conductors’ roles.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash offered to suspend industrial action if the company agreed not to implement the changes.

He told MPs on the Transport Select Committee that the recent increase in sickness levels was not being orchestrated by the union and denied it amounted to unofficial industrial action.

Chief executive Charles Horton apologised to passengers for the daily disruption but said the cancellations from next Monday, amounting to 15 per cent of Southern’s services, would deliver a more ‘resilient’ level of services.

Southern’s 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.

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, called on ministers to take over the running of the GTR franchise.

“We simply cannot allow this appalling service to continue. GTR has been seen to fail on delivering an efficient and reliable service to passengers on Southern.”

Louise Ellman, who chairs the select committee, said MPs had been contacted by passengers angry at not getting home in time to see their children, with some saying they had lost their jobs because of delays to their trains.

Ms Ellman said: “We will watch carefully to see how the new emergency timetable, with its planned cancellations, helps and how the operator and unions can work together to find a permanent solution that improves the poor services passengers have suffered for too long.”

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