Southern rail row: Train drivers' strike halts services for third day

Queues for the Gatwick Express at London Victoria Image copyright PA
Image caption Queues have built up at London Victoria for the Gatwick Express service

Southern rail commuters are facing more travel misery after drivers walked out for the third day this week following the failure of conciliation talks.

The latest strike over the introduction of driver-only operated trains has again brought the network to a halt.

Labour's transport spokesman has called on the government to intervene ahead of a further conductors' strike next week.

Andy McDonald said: "What's needed is a pause. People to step back and let's have a thorough examination of this."

The shadow transport secretary told Radio 4's Today programme: "I'm absolutely furious at the intransigence and stupidity of Southern and the Department for Transport in perpetuating this.

"It's a hugely important issue around compromising safety and security... this issue has been trivialised and dismissed."

He added: "Let Chris Grayling intervene and agree a moratorium so that we can get people back on these trains immediately.

"It's what a Secretary of State should be doing right now."

Live updates on the Southern strike

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Media captionSouthern commuters facing more disruption

Angry passengers staged a protest at London Victoria station on Thursday evening before handing a letter to the Department for Transport (DfT) to demand government action.

'Year-long nightmare'

The Association of British Commuters, which organised the protest, said it had received support for its campaign to persuade ministers to do more to resolve the industrial disputes and other problems at Southern.

A spokesman said: "We have suffered a year-long nightmare because of the collapse of Southern rail.

"We have desperately called for government action and have been repeatedly ignored - even while many of us have lost our jobs, or had to move house."

The DfT has told the BBC the dispute is between Southern and the unions and "not something the government is involved in".

A spokeswoman for the department declined to comment further.

However, she provided background which said the government had no plans to split the franchise because it would not solve problems and would potentially create more disruption, and the important issue was to focus on resolving the strikes.

Image copyright Association of British Commuters
Image caption The Association of British Commuters staged a protest at London Victoria over the strikes and disruption they had caused
Image copyright Association of British Commuters
Image caption Campaigners have demanded government intervention

The Aslef and RMT unions are in dispute with Southern's parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).

Southern said there would be no service on any route on Friday, and has warned passengers there will be a revised service on Saturday.

The train company said Thameslink is operating a normal timetable and the Gatwick Express will run every 30 minutes from 05:00 until 22:00 GMT between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport.

'Inherently unsafe'

Under the changes being brought in by Southern, drivers take responsibility for opening and closing the doors and guards become on-board supervisors.

However, the RMT fears job cuts and has raised safety concerns.

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Aslef has described the changes as "inherently unsafe", while GTR said both the Office of Rail and Road and the Rail Safety & Standards Board had stated that drivers closing doors was a safe mode of operation.

Talks at conciliation service Acas between GTR and Aslef failed to reach an agreement on Thursday. Negotiations ended with both sides claiming to be open for talks.

Writing to union members on Friday, Aslef leader Mick Whelan said no formal offer had been made on the issue at the heart of the dispute.

"Aslef remains committed to finding a negotiated settlement as we have already done with ScotRail," he said.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Further stoppages are planned by both unions

Planned Southern strike dates

00:01 Friday 16 December to 23:59: Friday 16 December (Aslef and RMT drivers' strike)

00:01 Monday 19 December to 23:59 Tuesday 20 December (RMT conductors' strike)

00:01 Saturday 31 December to 23:59 Monday 2 January (RMT conductors' strike)

00:01 Monday 9 January to 23:59: Saturday 14 January (Aslef and RMT drivers' strike)

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