London

Southern rail dispute: Rail minister says government could broker talks

Brighton Station closure Image copyright @TeddyPB
Image caption Brighton station was closed on Tuesday evening to help ease overcrowding after a points failure caused more delays

New rail minister Paul Maynard has said the government will consider brokering talks between Southern and the RMT union to try to end their dispute.

Passengers have suffered months of delays, cancellations and a reduced timetable amid staff shortages and strike action by conductors.

Mr Maynard said the current level of service was "unacceptable".

It comes as London mayor Sadiq Khan reiterated his call for Transport for London to take over the franchise.

'Held hostage'

In a letter to new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Mr Khan said: "There is no doubt that the franchise must now be in default, and I have previously called for your department to step in and take control.

"Notwithstanding the wider discussions on devolution, I now offer to go one step further and put my senior TfL (Transport for London) team in charge of the Southern franchise until we get a permanent resolution."

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "Passengers and staff alike are being held hostage by this failed rail operation, and the silence from the new team at the DfT (Department for Transport) is deafening."

Mr Cash added that there had to be "urgent action" to remove Govia Thameslink Railway, the company that owns Southern, and bring in Directly Operated Railways (a holding company set up by the DfT to run rail franchises deemed to need to be publicly owned) "before there is a major disaster".

But Mr Maynard told a Transport Select Committee hearing: "Simply changing the management will not help because that would not address the issues in dispute and would only cause further disruption."

Image caption Southern and the RMT are in dispute over the introduction of driver-only trains on which guards will no longer open and close doors

Southern and the RMT are in dispute about plans for drivers, rather than guards, to open and close carriage doors.

At the hearing, committee member Huw Merriman MP - who uses Southern trains to commute to Parliament - said the union wanted guarantees from the government over the long-term job security of guards, which Southern could not provide past the end of its current franchise.

He said it was "gobsmacking" that the DfT had not held talks with both parties recently, and called for it to sit down with them and "be part of that effort to bring a resolution".

Mr Maynard replied: "I certainly would not rule that out. I will take advice and, where we can, seek to do that."

Southern has apologised for the disruption.

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