South Western Railway strikes: Train walkout kicks off with thousands to face travel misery over the next five days
Thousands of people in the south of England are set to face travel chaos this week as a five-day strike gets under way.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) on South Western Railway (SWR) are walking out from today.
Services on some of the busiest routes in England face disruption, sparking travel misery for those attending the Royal Ascot and Hampton Court Palace Music Festival.
The strike action is to hit services including busy routes into London Waterloo.
SWR said rail replacement services and ticket acceptance on other bus and rail networks have been organised where possible and has advised people attending Royal Ascot to allow extra time for travel.
The walk-outs have been called “unnecessary” by an SWR spokesman and come as the union accused the company of “dragging its heels” in protracted talks over the past few months.
The RMT said SWR was not prepared to give assurances that its new operational model will not move to driver-controlled operation, which sparked fears of a "stitch-up".
As well as a strike warning, commuters could also face delays and cancellations from adverse weather conditions.
South Western Railway advised: “From the early hours of Tuesday, a band of stormy weather will cross areas of our network bringing some rain and potential thunder storms in the evening.
“The Hampshire region is predicted to be most affected, with the weather from pushing from an easterly direction, and the worst of the storms taking place between the hours of 8pm and 9pm.”
Those hoping to attend Hampton Court Palace Music Festival have been told by the rail service extra services will be running between London Waterloo and Reading and London Waterloo and Hampton Court.
The strike is set to affect thousands of people in the south, with rail lines stretching to Wemouth, Portsmouth and Reading all set to be affected.
According to the RMT, the train company pledged in February that "each passenger train shall operate with a guard with safety critical competencies", which led the union to suspend strike action.
Officials said since then it has been "stalemate", accusing the company of "rowing back" on its public pledges.
RMT general secretary said the union has “been left with no choice” but to strike, saying members have been left “angry and frustrated” due to SWR "failing to bolt down an agreement that matches up to our expectations on the guard guarantee".
He said: “Worse than that, the company have refused to give assurances on the future operational role of the guard fuelling fears amongst our members of a stitch up.
"That situation has been compounded by an insistence that future operational models will be governed by the protection of company profits and not the safety of the travelling public.
"For more than three months we have sought to negotiate a conclusion to this dispute and it is wholly down to the management side that the core issue of the safety critical competencies and the role of the guard has not been signed off. It is because of that crucial failure by SWR that we have had no option but to lift the suspension and move back into strike action."
An SWR spokesman said it is “very disappointing” that RMT has decided to call “disruptive strike action”.
He said the company met with the union last week and agreed to arrange new dates to continue those talks.
"However, they seem insistent on going ahead with their unnecessary strike which will impact our customers and colleagues alike,” the spokesman said.
“Clearly, they have decided to target popular events such as Royal Ascot with this cynical action which is driven by internal RMT politics.
"The RMT has always said it wanted us to keep the guard on every train which is what we have offered as part of a framework agreement.
"We want to move the conversation on to how we operate our new trains and take advantage of the new technology on board to benefit our customers.
"We remain committed to finding a solution that will help us build a better railway for everyone. We will do everything we can to keep customers moving during these strikes but would like to apologise for the disruption this unnecessary action will cause.
"Passengers are strongly advised to plan their travel in advance as services are likely to be busier than usual because of the strike action.
“Rail replacement services and ticket acceptance on other bus and rail networks have been organised where possible, whilst fans attending events at Twickenham, Hampton Court, Royal Ascot, and elsewhere, are advised to allow extra time for their travel