LONDON Dec 13 Hundreds of thousands of London
commuters faced travel misery on Tuesday as a strike by train
drivers bought services from southern England and Gatwick
Airport to a standstill in the worst rail disruption in Britain
for two decades.
Drivers working for Southern Rail, which runs trains from
central London to Gatwick and Brighton on the south coast, began
a 48-hours stoppage over a long-running dispute about whose job
it should be to open and close the train doors.
Southern, run by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), a joint
venture owned by London-listed Go-Ahead and France's
Keolis and Britain's largest train operator, said none of its
2,284 services would run as a result of the action.
"Travel Update: ASLEF and RMT Industrial action. No trains
today," Southern's website said. Local media said the impact
would be the worst since a strike by signal workers in the
Southern users have already endured months of cancellations
and delays because of high levels of staff sickness which were
then followed by strikes by conductors, staff who currently have
responsibility for the carriage doors.
Unions argue Southern wants to extend the use of driver-only
operated trains and so reduce the safety role the conductors
play. Southern says its modernisation plans would not cost any
jobs but would lead to fewer train cancellations as services
would no longer require both drivers and conductors.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the action by ASLEF,
the union which represents the drivers, was politically
"When I met the General Secretary of ASLEF soon after my
appointment, with virtually his first breath he promised me '10
years of industrial action'," he said in a letter to lawmakers
and Southern passengers to explain why he had not got directly
involved in the dispute.
The operator, which handles 620,000 passenger journeys every
day and failed in a court bid on Monday to prevent the strike
going ahead, said the company was partly to blame for the
"The way this will come to a resolution is to sit down with
the trade unions and to thrash out what the answer is," Nick
Brown, Southern's Chief Operating Officer told BBC radio. "By
continuing with this strike actions, we will continue to inflict
pain and suffering on our passengers."
Another 24-hour strike is due on Friday, with more walkouts
planned by conductors this month and a five-day stoppage by both
from Jan. 9.
(Reporting by Michael Holden)