Southern rail strike: Animosity and a collapse in industrial relations

Tom Edwards
Transport correspondent, London
@BBCTomEdwardson Twitter

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionHundreds of trains were cancelled on the first day of the walkout

Four years ago, London's transport was hailed as a huge Olympic success story.

Today in a global city, there are stations without trains and any semblance of reliability on Southern rail evaporated months ago.

Hour upon hour has been lost with commuters stuck on trains and what is most alarming is there seems very little chance of this mess being sorted out.

As the transport experts at London Reconnections have pointed out, this dispute has been compounded by many historic problems including a driver shortage, rolling stock issues and capacity at London Bridge.

The joke amongst Southern commuters is they won't notice any difference in service levels due to this week's strike.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe RMT says the strike is all to do with safety issues

And there doesn't seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel.

Two more unions, ASLEF & TSSA, are also balloting for strike action.

Politicians have called for the franchise contract to be taken away from Southern.

But the government now looks like it will front this strike out.

"We don't think it is as simple as changing the operator," a Department for Transport spokesman has said.

The crux of the dispute is the changes to the role of guards.

The company wants the driver to close the doors and dispatch the new trains using CCTV. It says that Driver Only Operation (DOO) has been used for many years, on parts of the network.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe strike is the longest on the railways since 1968

The union says expanding it is a safety issue. Others say the unions are protecting jobs.

But the new rotas for the guards changing roles are due to be introduced on 21 August.

That means the high levels of sickness we've seen are unlikely to drop and so the unreliability in the service will not improve.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionSome stations were deserted as passengers bore the brunt of the five-day walkout

One union official said to me in years working on the railways he'd never seen industrial relations as bad as they are at Southern.

This needs a negotiated settlement and at the moment both sides are locked in animosity and are entrenched.

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