Hundreds of thousands of commuters face mayhem throughout next week with a series of strikes coming just days after massive fare increases.
Three 24-hour walkouts by train staff on Monday, Wednesday and Friday – 8, 10 and 12 January - have been ordered on South Western Railway (SWR) with up to 450 trains a day, a quarter of the service, expected to be cancelled.
Crisis talks were taking place today between RMT and SWR bosses to try and avert the walkouts but both sides remained entrenched over the changing role of the train guard.
SWR, which operates the UK’s largest franchise, carries more than 300,000 passengers a day – a third of those travelling into mainline Waterloo during the morning peak.
The three days have been deliberately chosen to cause maximum disruption all week, with delays threatened on the non-strike days of Tuesday and Thursday due to train stock and staff out of place.
A single 24-hour strike will take place on Monday at Southern Rail resulting in some cancellations and changes to service.
It will be the 39th strike in the 20 month old dispute at Southern which serves London Bridge, Charing Cross and Cannon Street.
London’s business leaders condemned the walkouts saying they damaged both the economy and the UK’s world standing.
Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “This is another blow for commuters and for business especially as it comes hot on the heels of the fare rises.
“Londoners and businesses need reliable and affordable train services and these latest strikes are damaging to the economy and reputation of our capital.”
Richard Dilks, director of transport policy at London First, said: “It appears too much to hope that 2018 could get underway without strikes on our railways.
“The RMT needs to stop walking out and instead work with the train operators to bring in the new and better trains millions of commuters so badly need.”
Train staff at Greater Anglia, including services into Liverpool Street, have also been ordered to strike on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday but the company today insisted it would run a full service.
The RMT union-ordered strikes are all in protest over changes, or proposed changes, to train guard duties, the central issue in all the disputes.
At SWR the RMT is demanding “assurances” that no train will run without a second trained member of staff on board.
In a copycat situation of the Southern dispute, SWR management is refusing to give that assurance saying there may be some occasions when a train will operate with just the driver.
Andy Mellors, SWR managing director, said: “The RMT executive knows we plan to keep a guard on all our trains to assist passengers. What we want to discuss with them is what happens when a guard is unavailable at short notice so that our passengers aren’t left stranded.
“We have given them repeated reassurances that we will need more guards as we introduce new and longer trains. For the sake of our passengers and their members they need to stop scaremongering and start talking.
“We will do everything we can to keep our passengers moving during these unnecessary strikes but passengers are warned to check before travelling.”
Mick Cash, the RMT leader, said the union was “seeking an agreement which guarantees a guard on their trains and protects the safety, security and access of the travelling public.”
He said similar agreements had already been reached in Scotland and Wales.