South Western Railway 27-day strike to disrupt Christmas travel

Commuters were affected today by the first of three strikes by workers of South Western Railway (SWR). The strikes come as a long-running dispute over guards on trains broke down between the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and SWR broke down. 

South Western Railway expects to run around half of its trains on most weekdays, with no trains after 11pm. Peak services are going to be busy and queuing systems are in place at busy stations.

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The strikes are due to an ongoing dispute around the role and responsibilities of guards on trains. Their new trains allow driver-only or driver-controlled operation, including closing the doors.  Unions, who believe they have not had enough assurances, want to ensure guards keep a safety-critical role on the trains but believe the guards could be removed in the future.

The strikes are as follows:

  • From 00:01 GMT on Monday 2 December until 23:59 on Wednesday 11 December
  • From 00:01 on Friday 13 December until 23:59 on Tuesday 24 December
  • From 00:01 on Friday 27 December 2019 until 23:59 on 1 January

SWR released a revised timetable and said it would provide longer trains to increase capacity where possible.

While some commuters are angry with the situation, others are supporting the strikers:

On 2 December, the second day of the strike, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:

“Our members are solidly supporting the second day of this phase of strike action and are standing firm the length and breadth of the franchise in defence of the role of the guard, accessibility and the safest method of train despatch and operation.

“It is frankly ludicrous for the company to simply jam their heads in the sand rather than getting back round the table to get the same deal back on track that they pulled away from at the last minute in earlier negotiations.

“A deal is there to be done which would cost the company nothing and which would give the safety and accessibility guarantees at the platform/train interface that we have been seeking. SWR need to get out of the bunker and get back into talks.”

When approached for comment, a South Western Railway spokesperson said:

“We know this strike will make travelling more difficult and services will be busier than normal. We share your frustration and want you to know we’re doing everything possible to keep customers moving during this unnecessary RMT strike action.

“We plan to run more than half of our normal Monday-Friday services and will provide longer trains in order to increase capacity wherever possible. Customers can expect a similar number of peak services to previous strikes. However, they should be aware that last services will be earlier than normal.

“We encourage customers to check our website for the latest travel information.

“Our train planners are now working hard on the festive period timetables. Details will be updated on our website and via @SW_Help.”

Jessica, a commuter who booked Christmas Eve tickets home before the strikes began, said: 

“It’s really irritating. I’ve had my tickets booked for months but now it’s all changing because of these strikes. I’m having to get a different train home to Bath, which is going to take even longer.

“I can sympathise with the workers though. It’s an important issue but it couldn’t have come at a worse time.”

Words: Hannah Wilson

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