Union calls for ‘accessibility guarantee’ on Southern trains

Southern train
Southern train

A rail union has called for a six-month ‘accessibility guarantee’ on Southern services in a long-running dispute over staffing of trains.

The RMT union has been fighting Govia Thameslink Railway over the introduction of driver-only operation, which involves drivers opening and closing train doors, since early 2016.

They have held numerous strikes and highlighted concerns over the potential loss of a second safety-critical member of staff on Southern trains.

In a letter to MPs the union has proposed to trial a six-month ‘accessibility guarantee’ on all services, which would guarantee assistance from on-board staff on all trains for all passengers, including the disabled, elderly, vulnerable and other users.

The union claims that at least as many as 158 Southern trains a week, the equivalent of 8,216 a year, are running without a second staff member.

But a Southern spokesman said: “The guarantee the RMT wants is a guarantee to cancel trains. We want to put the passenger first and keep trains running.

“Driver controlled operation is safe and provision for those who need assistance has not deteriorated while, at the same time, service levels have steadily improved.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, called their proposal ‘sensible’, adding: “That there is no agreement yet points to the continued hand of {Transport Secretary] Chris Grayling blocking a settlement as even the government backed Gibb report into Southern Rail admitting that the Secretary of State is determining the direction of this dispute.

“The reason this dispute is now entering its fifteenth month is because the government have backed the employer. MPs now need to ask when the government is going to back a fair settlement instead.”

The RMT is due to hold its latest 24-hour walkout on Monday July 10.

Meanwhile, a ban on overtime working by train drivers’ union ASLEF came into effect last Thursday (June 29), while it is also balloting members on holding more strikes.

MPs are due to debate the Gibb report in the House of Commons today (Tuesday July 4).