Rail passengers protest fares hike at 100 stations

Demonstrations held across England and Scotland after cost of travel increases by 2.3%

Train protests
(Image credit: Carl Court/Getty Images)

18 May

Thousands of commuters will face interrupted journeys today as Southern rail workers stage a 24-hour walkout that will affect some of the nation's busiest routes.

Some 2,100 services are scheduled to operate, but hundreds of trains are expected to be cancelled as a result of the industrial action by the RMT union, part of a dispute over the role of conductors.

Southern says it intends to run around two-thirds of its scheduled services, although it has warned passengers to expect delays, queuing controls and crowded trains. Some routes will be closed altogether, while many others will operate a reduced service. Southern's website is providing travellers with real-time information.

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Under new proposals, train drivers would take over responsibility for opening and closing train doors from guards – part of Southern operator Govia Thameslink's move to turn many conductors into "onboard supervisors" focusing on interacting with customers rather than mechanical operations.

"We will be retaining some conductors on some coastal services," Dyan Crowther, Govia Thameslink's chief operating officer, said. "Some staff have already opted to do those roles and some have opted to do the onboard supervisor roles."

For their part, RMT bosses have expressed concerns that reducing the number of conductors could have a disastrous effect on safety. Southern's RMT members staged their first walkout last month and general secretary Mick Cash has warned of further action if the deadlock is not resolved.

"Our members have been backed into a corner by this aggressive and unpopular company and have had no option whatsoever but to fight to defend the safety-critical role of the guard on these rammed-out and unreliable Southern routes," Cash said in a statement.

Alan Jones, the Press Association's industrial correspondent, told the BBC: "The unions are very suspicious that this is part of a wider attempt to get rid of guards altogether, which has happened on a lot of trains."

Jones says that a separate conflict is also brewing between Southern and station staff about the closure of ticket offices, a dispute that could also lead to strike action.

Rail strike: 'Misery' on Southern Rail as workers walk out

S26 April

Southern Rail commuters are facing "misery" today as conductors walk out for 24 hours.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) will strike from 11am until 10.59am on Wednesday, but services were expected to be disrupted from 7.30am. Industrial action is also planned for 10 to 13 May.

"This will have a significant effect on Southern services on the whole of the days affected, with no service on many routes and only a limited service between approximately 7.30am and 6pm on others," said Southern Rail in a statement.

A queuing system will be in place at many of the stations that are open, so travellers "may have a long wait" before they are able to board a train, added the company. "Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee to get you to your destination."

Trains running between Brighton and London Victoria are expected to be "very busy" with a reduced service, while other routes, such as Hampden Park to Ashford International, will not run at all. A full map can be downloaded here.

The strikes are set to "paralyse the network", says The Argus, with "two days of misery" for commuters.

Routes run by other operators, such as the Guildford to Leatherhead and Sutton to Tooting lines, "may take longer and be exceptionally crowded at certain times", said Southern Rail.

"We strongly advise you to travel outside peak times where possible," added the company. "We also advise you to avoid planning to travel on the last trains of the day – if you are unable to board services we will not be able to arrange alternative transport."

What's the dispute about?

Conductors are unhappy with Govia Thameslink Railway's (GTR) plans to hand responsibility for operating the train doors over to the driver. GTR's network includes Southern Rail, Great Northern, Gatwick Express and ThamesLink.

Mick Cash, the RMT general secretary, said the dispute was about "safety and the safety-critical role of the guards" on Southern trains.

"The company, with an eye on ever-fatter profits, is prepared to axe the guards on some of the most overcrowded and potentially dangerous services in Britain so that they can squeeze every last penny out of their passengers regardless of the consequences," he said.

"That is a lethal gamble with safety in the name of profit and that is why we have been forced to take strike action."

However, Nus Ghani, the Conservative MP for Wealden, told BBC Sussex: "The changes proposed – driver-only-operated trains – are happening on a third of the network already. I do not remember the last time I got on a train and there was someone to help me physically, on or off. Drivers can manage the doors."

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has condemned the industrial action. "Rail passengers will not thank the unions for inflicting this unnecessary disruption. It is clear that the changes GTR are proposing will modernise services and provide better journeys for passengers," he said.

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