Strike-hit Southern rail axes hundreds of trains

Southern train Image copyright PA
Image caption There will be 341 fewer services on the revised timetable

Hundreds of rail services have been axed by Southern rail under a revised timetable in response to ongoing cancellations and delays.

The firm said there would be 341 fewer daily services on the revised schedule, which starts on Monday. It currently runs 2,242 services every weekday.

It said there had been issues with crew availability during a dispute with the RMT, which has staged several walkouts.

The union has accused the firm of "crisis management".

The timetable, which sees 15% of Southern trains cancelled, was unveiled as managers faced MPs on the transport select committee.

Live updates from the transport select committee

'Sincerely sorry'

The union and parent company Govia Thameslink (GTR) are in dispute over the introduction of more driver-only operated (DOO) services, which includes a change in conductors' roles.

Southern said it was taking action to encourage staff back to work and working with the government to introduce more generous passenger compensation.

Industrial action by RMT members and high levels of staff sickness have contributed to disruption of Southern services from the south coast into London.

The RMT union has denied claims staff sickness is unofficial industrial action.

Image caption Southern rail managers faced passengers at a public meeting in Hove

Southern rail passenger services director Alex Foulds said: "We are introducing this temporary weekday revised timetable with reluctance but it is the best thing we can do for our passengers who have been suffering daily cancellations ever since this dispute with the RMT began, and for which we are sincerely sorry.

"It should give the majority of our passengers a better, more consistent service that they can plan around."

He said the company recognised it had been a difficult time for staff.

But he added: "Conductors already know that their jobs are guaranteed, that there will be no reduction in salary and that the independent rail safety body has confirmed our plans are safe.

"Now, after listening to staff, we have also decided to restore leisure travel benefits.

"All of this, we believe, should help our staff feel able to return to work and so reduce the issues causing the current high level of train cancellations."

'Cynical and cowardly'

The revised timetable will run until crew availability returns to normal, the company said.

Image caption Commuters have staged protests over ongoing disruption

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said industrial action would continue unless Southern was prepared to compromise.

He said: "We're willing to sit down and come up with a solution to this problem, but you know, if it's 'our way or the highway' then - which is what I get and what I certainly got back from the two Acas meetings that we attended - then we're going to have some difficulties."

Mr Cash said the franchise was in "terminal meltdown".

He said: "The continuing attempt to blame this gross mismanagement on the front line staff is a cynical and cowardly ploy by a company who have chosen to wage war on their passengers and workforce alike."

The union chief added: "This emergency timetable enables Govia to cancel 15% of their trains and rig their appalling performance figures to protect their profits.

"Instead of conniving with this scandal, the government should fire GTR and immediately instruct the legal, public sector fall-back operation to take over."

Image copyright Google Maps
Image caption Godstone on the Redhill-Tonbridge line loses direct trains to London under the revised timetable

Analysis by Tom Edwards, BBC London transport correspondent

What Southern seems to be doing is reducing the services on less heavily-used lines to bolster and give stability to the main commuter routes into London.

It claims 95% of normal capacity will run into Victoria. Long-suffering commuters will take that with a pinch of salt after months of problems. But there is a glimmer of hope.

Southern have so far been extremely unmoving and some would say aggressive in its dealing with the RMT.

It withdrew free travel leisure passes for conductors and a mutual shift swap system which gave flexibility to working patterns. That caused huge resentment amongst staff. But today, it announced it would be re-instating those.

While it does seem the company is intent on introducing changes to the role of conductor by August - and it is difficult to see a way out of this stalemate - this is the first time we have seen a slight thaw.

Changes include the suspension of Southern's west London line services between Milton Keynes and Clapham Junction and reductions in service on the Coastway routes.

Buses will replace most trains between Seaford and Lewes and there will be a reduced, off-peak service between Tonbridge and Redhill.

Southern is part of Govia Thameslink Railway and is the main operator for Sussex and east Surrey.

It also runs services in parts of London, Kent, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire.

Image copyright Lorna Cobbett
Image caption Lorna Cobbett said she needed to rely on trains to return home to see her babies

A mother from Horsham, Lorna Cobbett, who recently gave birth to premature triplets, told the BBC she was worried about returning to work in London in case she needed to return home quickly and all the trains from Victoria were cancelled.

She plans to tackle Southern's passenger service director about the disruption at the company's next meeting with the public.

Roger Keyworth, from West Sussex Rail Users Association, said he welcome the revised timetable because it would provide certainty.

"People just don't know when the train is going to run," he added.

He said he understood Southern's staffing requirements were set out in its rail franchise agreement with the government.

"The transport select committee discussions this morning are going to be very interesting," he said.

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