England

Brighton and Hove Albion bid to start rail dispute talks

Queues Image copyright Ryan McAndrew
Image caption After Friday's match, Ryan McAndrew said the queue after the Brighton game was not unusual - except everyone was still in the same position an hour later

A football club hit by rail disruption caused by strikes has offered to broker talks between the arguing parties.

Southern and the RMT Union are in a long-running dispute and the union has staged a series of strikes since April.

Brighton and Hove Albion has invited all sides to talks at the Amex stadium.

The RMT accepted the offer but Southern said it had met the union "countless" times. The government said it would respond to the letter in due course.

Southern has been hit by months of strikes in a dispute over the roles of guards on trains and had to bring in a reduced timetable earlier this year blaming high levels of sickness and crew shortages.

Image caption Brighton commuters have staged protests over continued disruption on Southern

On Friday, Southern apologised to football fans after crowds were left stranded at Falmer station following train cancellations.

But it also said the disruption followed short-notice sickness and "a reluctance to work rest days and overtime" by crews.

The RMT blamed mismanagement and lack of planning by Southern.

'Frankly ludicrous'

The football club's executive director Martin Perry wrote to transport secretary Chris Grayling and said: "Rail passengers have suffered enough.

"They are at risk as a result of this dispute and your urgent intervention is required.

"We are writing to Southern trains and the RMT along with yourselves and invited you all to a meeting which we will facilitate."

Accepting the offer, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "The union has been calling for just such a meeting for months and it's frankly ludicrous that it has taken the intervention of the football club."

'Meetings pointless'

A Southern spokesman said: "Over the past 10 months we've met face to face with the RMT leadership countless times, including many times at (conciliation service) ACAS."

He added: "We've made a full and comprehensive offer which they have repeatedly rejected. Nothing will be solved until the RMT agrees to let go of the past and help deliver a better service for our passengers. Until that happens more meetings are pointless."

A Department for Transport spokesman said improving services was a priority for the government and the operator.

He said: "Chris Grayling has unveiled a package of measures, including a Network Rail £20 million fund and he appointed Chris Gibb, a senior industry expert, to lead a new project board this autumn as we take steps to deliver a rapid improvement in services.

"We have also announced that passengers on Southern will be able to claim compensation if their train is more than 15 minutes late."

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