Hundreds of thousands of London commuters were left with no train service on Tuesday as the latest strike in Britain’s worst rail dispute in decades brought more travel misery the day after major disruption on the capital’s underground system.
Drivers working for Southern Rail, which runs services from central London to Gatwick Airport and Brighton on the south coast, began a 48-hour stoppage in a dispute about whose job it should be to open and close the train doors which has already led to more than 25 days of strike action.
Southern, run by Britain’s largest train operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) – a joint venture owned by London-listed Go-Ahead GOG.L and France’s Keolis, said almost none of its 2,284 services would run and advised its customers not to travel.
The strike comes a day after millions of commuters were hit by a walkout by staff on the underground network which closed most metro stations in central London and led to reduced services, causing gridlock on the roads.
The Southern dispute began last April over plans to extend the use of driver-only operated (DOO) trains and so reduce the safety role played by the conductor, a second member of onboard staff.
The company says many trains on its network and across Britain only require a driver, adding the change would not lead to any job losses or pay cuts and that it wants to increase the number of staff on board trains.
The unions representing drivers and conductors say it is a serious safety issue. Angry commuters not only blame the two sides in the dispute but also the government which under the terms of the franchise deal has to pick up the compensation bill for passengers but has so far declined to intervene in the row.
It is the longest-running dispute since the privatisation of the rail industry in the mid-1990s and there is little sign it is likely to be settled soon.
“With government backing, the company has broken long-standing agreements with the union that make sure train drivers can do their job safely,” the ASLEF union said on its website. “No wonder there’s been such a huge loss of trust and goodwill on the part of union members towards the company.”
Southern’s Chief Operating Officer Nick Brown said the unions wanted to turn the clock back.
“We’re not going to give in,” he told BBC radio.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)