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Rail havoc has to end, says peer

UNION leaders and managers must resolve the dispute which is crippling Bognor Regis’ train services, the Labour leader in the House of Lords has demanded.

 

Town resident Baroness Smith of Basildon, pictured right, said the stalemate behind the long-running argument was not good enough.

 

Last week saw train services crippled by a three-day strike between the RMT union and GTR, the owner of Southern Railway. That has been replaced by the resumption of the emergency timetable which began in early July.

 

This cuts daily services from Bognor Regis by about a third to the mid-50s. But yesterday saw services to and from the town again badly disrupted by cancellations and delays caused by a lack of train crew.

 

Baroness Smith, who travels to London by train from Bognor Regis, said: “It looks like the dispute between Scotrail and the RMT (over driver-operated doors) has been resolved. I can’t see why Southern can’t do that.

 

“Some of the things I have seen from Southern it looks like they want to make their point rather than try to resolve the situation.

 

“The people who lose out in all of this are the passengers. The fares are not cheap, the trains are over-crowded and there have been 350 services a day cancelled for the emergency timetable.

 

“So, I’m not impressed by Southern Railway. When the trains work well, they work well and the staff at Bognor station are really friendly and helpful, but the current situation is unacceptable.

 

“Travelling should be fun but the operator is making it into an unpleasant experience.”

 

She recounted one recent journey to London on a Monday morning when she and her fellow passengers were shunted off one train after another before the third service finally left the station.

 

“London employers are finding it difficult to run their companies because their employees can’t travel in from places like Crawley and Horsham,” she said.

 

Next week will see Southern press ahead with its controversial plans to start driver operated doors to raise the risk of further strikes.

 

Conductors will no longer be responsible for closing train doors and will be rebranded as ‘onboard supervisors’ – a move the RMT says will endanger safety and threaten jobs.

 

Hopes rose of an end to the row last week after the RMT called off its five-day week strike early for talks with Southern’s owner, GTRailway, at conciliation service, Acas. But the discussions broke up amid recriminations from both sides.

 

GTR’s passenger services director, Angie Doll, said: “We have been talking to the union for nine months now and, despite several visits to Acas, the union won’t agree a deal.

 

“We have guaranteed to have a second person on as many trains as today. But the union is rigidly refusing our offer to agree a list of exceptional circumstances when we would be able to run our trains without a second staff member on board, such as during disruption, to still get people home.

 

“This would create the crucial flexibility we need to ensure fewer cancelled trains for our passengers.”

 

The RMT, however, claimed Southern had rejected a proposal that would have ensured a second person on the train and addressed all of the company’s concerns.

 

Its general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “We had a golden opportunity in these talks to make some serious progress on the core issue of a second person on the train who would have protected the safety of passengers, delivered customer services and ensured access to services for those with disabilities or needing assistance,” he said.

 

RMT station staff have also voted to strike about ticket office closures.

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