England

RMT claims strike-hit Southern rail 'out of control'

Southern train Image copyright PA
Image caption The RMT opposes a new on-board supervisor role and plans for drivers to operate doors

Managers on Southern rail have had to work as conductors on a reduced timetable brought in to cope with disruption, the RMT union has claimed.

The union, which is in dispute with parent firm Govia Thameslink (GTR) over guards' roles, said managers with the correct safety certification had been "press-ganged" into working on trains.

The RMT said it was "crisis management that is simply out of control".

Southern said it made no apology for using all qualified staff on trains.

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Media captionLondon Mayor Sadiq Khan says he's appalled at the 'unceasing misery' inflicted on passengers

The new timetable has seen 341 trains axed each day. Southern previously ran 2,242 services each weekday.

Union chief Mick Cash said: "GTR/Southern told the public the emergency timetable was drawn up to fit with current available staff members.

"It was yet another pack of lies from a basket-case franchise in terminal meltdown."

Image caption Services from Tonbridge will terminate at Redhill while the revised timetable is in force
Image copyright PA
Image caption Replacement buses are running between Seaford station in East Sussex and Lewes

A Southern spokeswoman said: "The changes we made have so far delivered an encouraging start to what we wanted to give our passengers: a more robust timetable with more trains running to schedule at times when people need them most.

"But while we cautiously welcome this news, it is early days and we also realise that what our passengers really want is for us to get back to our normal timetable as quickly as possible."

She added: "We make no apology for using all qualified staff to allow us to run as many trains as possible during this period of high sickness amongst RMT members.

"Our passengers would expect nothing less, and we shall continue to do so when and where necessary."

GTR has blamed issues with crew availability for delays and cancellations of services - the RMT has denied claims staff sickness amounted to unofficial industrial action.

Image caption Disabled Seaford to Brighton commuter Sam Taylor said he was stopped from boarding a bus

Campaigners in Seaford, who plan to protest later, have said the town has lost all its trains apart from a "small handful", with thousands of commuters, children and families affected.

One disabled passenger who commutes from Seaford to Brighton said he was stopped from using a bus replacement service because his wheelchair was "too big and heavy to get on".

Web designer Sam Taylor said he had to wait for two more buses before he could eventually board one.

"It's really difficult because there are no trains running at all," he said.

"I used to rely on the trains for my independence and now I feel that has been taken away from me.

"I can't get into Brighton at all without getting buses, which aren't very accessible anyway. If there's no space on the bus there's no other way to get into Brighton on my own."

A Southern spokesman responded: "We are very sorry for what happened to Mr Taylor. We pride ourselves on offering people of all abilities access to our services and if we cannot then we will arrange a free alternative.

"Most of the buses at Seaford - as many as we could source - are accessible and for those that are not, our station staff would have provided a free taxi if asked."

The rail operator wants to use new trains where the driver operates the doors using CCTV.

But the RMT union, which fears job losses, claims two staff members are safer than one. It has offered to suspend industrial action if Southern agrees not to implement changes.

Image caption Commuters who protested at Brighton railway station described three and four-hour journeys

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called on the government to strip GTR of its franchise.

He said: "Passengers are paying thousands of pounds for a service that, rather than being 'turn up and go', has become 'turn up and hope'."

The mayor wants the government to take temporary responsibility for Southern services and a speedier timetable for transferring suburban services to Transport for London.

Image caption The RMT has staged a series of walkouts

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said he shares the "fury" of passengers and the government is "playing its part" by investing in the network.

He has accused the RMT of having an "absurd" attitude.

"There is no threat to safety, no threat to jobs, no threat to pay and yet they continue disrupting passengers' lives on a daily basis," he said.

Commuters angered by disruption staged a demonstration at London Victoria on Monday.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Commuters staged a protest at Victoria Station demanding a better service from Southern
Image caption Protestors said using the service had been 'hell'

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