I am sorry to say that the unions in dispute with Southern Rail are going ahead with further strike action in the coming days. These will happen on January 10th, 11th, and 13th, with further strikes announced for January 24th, 25th and 27th.
Southern will be running bus services between Havant and Chichester in both directions, to link in with South West Trains’ services to Portsmouth and London which will be running as usual. I realise this will not prevent major disruption to people who depend on rail services to get around every day. Over 2000 services are going to be kept off the network, and inevitably Southern are advising people not to travel unless it is essential.
I hope the unions will get real about the effect these strikes are having on the public and on their own reputation. The strikes are being carried out under false pretences. The dispute is not about safety on trains, or about potential job losses. Neither of these are threatened by the changes Southern want to make.
They are changes which have already been made covering about a third of all rail services in the UK, where drivers operate the doors. Making the change on Southern will leave the guard on these trains free to concentrate on looking after passengers, along with revenue protection staff. Southern assure passengers that there will be a second member of staff on at least as many services as at present.
The unions have spoilt a good case they have for saying that Southern have not run the franchise as well as they could – the RMT union have long had concerns about staffing levels. I wrote to the Department for Transport to ask if they have a view of whether Southern have enough staff, and the reply I got did not convince me. This was during the period last summer when there were not official strikes, but there was still constant disruption through staff sickness and an apparent lack of cover. I still have concerns about Southern’s overall staffing levels now, but it is impossible to prove that point either way while the strike action is disrupting everything.
I have had discussions with Transport Ministers about all aspects of this dispute. In response to concerns from all the MPs affected, the government has injected funds into improvement works to deal with some of the infrastructure issues which the union have raised with Southern. But until the unions agree to get round the table with Southern, the unions must take responsibility for the hardship caused by this dispute.
The National Rail journey planner is the best place to keep up with services under any circumstances, and it will be updated with any changes or services running during the strike action.