England

Southern rail 'not rejecting' RMT offer to halt action

Southern train at Haywards Heath
Image caption The dispute is over the introduction of driver-only trains on which guards will no longer open and close doors

A rail union has offered to suspend industrial action in a dispute which has caused months of disruption on Southern Rail services.

The RMT said it would halt any action for three months if the firm suspended its plans to change conductors' roles for a similar period.

Southern said it was "not rejecting the offer" and looked forward to talks "as soon as possible".

The dispute centres around proposals for driver-only trains.

Unions argue the plans, under which drivers, rather than conductors, operate carriage doors, will threaten jobs and passenger safety.

Image caption The RMT has staged a series of walkouts

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said its offer would "allow us time and space to sit down together and try and explore options that will seek to deliver the lasting improvements to service and reliability we all want".

'Incredibly helpless' - Commuters tell of disruption

Commuters on Southern told BBC Sussex and BBC Surrey about reduced family time at home, official warnings at work for being late, lost contracts, missed medical appointments and having to book London hotels overnight to keep morning meetings.

Creative director Jeff Collins said cancellations on his journey from Reigate to London Bridge were an "absolute nightmare" and he "hardly ever gets to see his children".

Isabel Costello, who commutes between Chichester and Brighton, said: "I never know when I am going to get to work or get home. I feel incredibly helpless".

Lawyer Amanda Bruce travels from Hove to Clapham Junction. She said she was late for work so often, she was considering moving nearer London.

James Ashcroft, 39, from Merstham, has resigned from his job as a web designer in London. He said: "I just couldn't take it any more."

And Lucy Brown in Reigate said on the days she travels to work, her children do not see her before bedtime. "They are starting to hate trains too by association. Thomas the Tank Engine is turned off," she said.

A Southern spokesman said the union needed to "address the main cause of the current service problems, the remarkably high levels of sickness amongst some RMT members".

Govia Thameslink (GTR), Southern's owner, begins a temporary, reduced timetable next Monday to try to ease the on-going disruption, with 341 fewer daily services.

Image copyright Jeff Collins
Image caption Departure boards at London Bridge showing Southern delays

Southern is the main rail operator for Sussex and east Surrey. It also serves parts of Hampshire, Kent, London and Buckinghamshire.

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