Hundreds of thousands of commuters from South London have been affected by Southern Rail strikes that are set to continue today, Friday and into the New Year.
More than 1000 drivers from the Aslef and RMT unions have gone on strike, leaving passengers across large areas of south London and southern England without any rail service and more than 300,000 people stranded.
In the Eastlondonlines areas, the strikes are affecting the heavily used East Croydon to London Victoria and London Bridge services. Stations affected include New Cross Gate, Brockley, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Anerley, Norwood Junction and Crystal Palace.
Commuters across London were left scrambling for alternative routes which led to gridlock on the roads and overcrowding on other key tube lines, while many other station platforms serving the Southern Line were left empty. It is said to be ‘the worst rail strike in a generation’.
In response to the strike action, the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling described the motives behind the strikes as being ‘political’ and criticised them as ‘palpable nonsense.’
In a letter to MPs on Monday, he wrote: “When I met the general secretary of Aslef soon after my appointment, with virtually his first breath he promised me ‘10 years of industrial action’. I have therefore believed it better to avoid direct ministerial involvement in negotiations during the autumn, as my involvement would make the issue even more political than it is.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s today he also responded to questions about whether the government might change the law to prevent similar strikes taking place in the future by saying, “I think there is a lot of things after this is over that we are going to have to take a careful look at because we can’t leave our railways exposed.”
ASLEF however denies that that they threatened industrial action in such a way saying the transport secretary was “being less than honest” and “utterly selective” about a private meeting that was held “in good faith, under Chatham House rules”.
ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said: “We said there could potentially be issues, in the future on GTR/Southern following his refusal to entertain the serious safety concerns we raised and given the complete breakdown in trust between the union and the company. That loss of trust now extends to Mr Grayling and the government of which he is a part.”
He added: “The strikes this week are not, whatever Mr Grayling tries to suggest, politically motivated. We have a trade dispute with GTR / Southern, and only a poor government would seek to spin it any other way. I think their motives are clear.”
The strikers claim to be taking action primarily on safety issues with Mr. Whelan pointing to concerns over Driver Only Operations (DOO).
“DOO is inherently unsafe. The company – which cares only about profit, not about passengers – knows, as we know, that there are serious problems with the platform/train interface. It has been our policy for more than 15 years to try to eradicate driver only operation.”
“DOO is old, not new, technology, designed for four-car 317s on the Bedford to St Pancras line in the early 1980s at the fag end of British Rail when everything was about managed decline.”
“But we have seen an increase in the number of passengers we are carrying on the railway every day. We now have 1,100 passengers on a 12 car train and two seconds to check 24 sets of doors is simply not adequate, to deal safely and properly, with the travelling public,” he said.
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) December 13, 2016
— Graham Spring (@Graspring) December 13, 2016
Meanwhile, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan intervened in a series of tweets calling for Southern, Southeastern and South West lines to be taken over by Transport for London (TfL).
“Southern rail passengers have been abandoned by the Government,” he said.
“Today I’ve offered to put a senior TfL team in immediate control of Southern Rail as an emergency measure to end the chaos for commuters.”
“The only viable long-term for commuters is for TfL to run London’s suburban services on Southern, Southeastern & South West lines. TfL have proven again and again that commuters get a more frequent, reliable and affordable service when they manage a franchise.”
He urged the union members to “get back around the negotiating table” and warned that “After a winter of misery for commuters on Southern Rail, doing nothing is no longer an option for the Government.”
More strikes are planned for a further six consecutive days from Monday, January 9.
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