England

Passengers confront Southern rail bosses over timetable cuts

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

Passengers have confronted Southern rail bosses over extensive timetable cuts after the firm said it did not know when normal services would resume.

A reduced timetable, axing 341 of its 2,242 weekday trains, began last Monday.

Fifteen services are due to be reinstated from 18 July.

Passenger services manager Angie Doll told hundreds at a meeting in East Sussex that the reduced timetable could be in place for longer than a month.

Lewes MP Maria Caulfield said Southern needed to hear passengers' anger.

Image caption Hundreds attended the meeting in East Sussex, organised by MP Maria Caulfield, to hear Southern's response

Angry commuters heckled Ms Doll at the meeting in Seaford as she apologised for Southern's recent service, which she said "has not been good enough".

"The intention is that we are operating the timetable for the next four weeks but it could be a little bit longer.

"I don't want to promise you that this timetable is going to change in the next four weeks because it may and it may not."

Southern has since announced 15 trains would be reinstated including two in Seaford and five in Epsom, Surrey, the constituency of the new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

The company insisted the routes were selected before his appointment.

Rail minister Claire Perry has resigned, after telling MPs on Wednesday she was "often ashamed" in the job.

'Businesses hurting'

The leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge urged all sides to "put their heads together" for a solution and warned businesses were "hurting" and the "powerhouse economies" of the south east were being damaged.

"As a Southern passenger myself, I fully understand the anger being vented by Surrey's passengers and businesses. Like them, I have suffered travel misery over the past few weeks."

Image caption Protests by passengers have been held in Seaford, Brighton and at London Victoria station

Southern services have been affected by redevelopment at London Bridge but owner Govia Thameslink is also involved in a dispute with the RMT union over the role of guards on the trains.

There have been series of walkouts and Southern has blamed issues with crew availability and high levels of staff sickness for delays and cancellations.

The union has denied claims that the sickness amounted to unofficial industrial action.

Image caption Commuters staged a protest at Victoria Station on Monday, demanding a better service

Ms Caulfield said she received "hundreds and hundreds" of emails and letters every day.

"I've got young couples who have missed honeymoons because they couldn't get to Gatwick," she said.

"I've got people who can't get to their hospital appointments.

"Southern need to hear the anger and frustration so they feel a sense of urgency and get back round that table and sort this dispute out."

A Department for Tranport spokesperson said: "It is vitally important we get the decision right.

"The Secretary of State and his ministerial team will want to consider all of the evidence before the government takes a decision."

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