As somebody who has to travel from Chichester to Portsmouth and back twice every day, I would say I am reasonably well qualified to give my view on the recent strikes which have devastated the railway system in the South of England. In the last week, three of the five working days saw walkouts by the ASLEF union, making it very difficult for people in the South to get to work.
The reasoning behind the strikes is laughable: the dispute is whether the doors on trains are to be opened by the conductors or the drivers. The RMT union were the ones who initially started the industrial action, presumably because they were worried that driver-operated trains would lead to wage cuts and, eventually, redundancies for conductors. However, more recently ASLEF have also got involved on behalf of the train drivers. The two unions are officially striking because they feel it will be unsafe for the passengers if drivers open the doors, but in all likelihood this is just a cover story for trying to keep the current working conditions.
As far back as 2012 Southern Rail was voted the worst train service in the UK, and that was before the disputes and official strikes even began. Even a couple of years ago my train home would be cancelled about once a week and I can remember many occasions on which my trains have suddenly terminated before the end of the journey. However, since June 2016 the situation has become far worse. There have been weeks (with no strikes) where my train has been cancelled every single day and there are people who are finding themselves out of a job because the train service is too unreliable for them to get to work on time.
However, I don’t think it is the company who is to blame for the disruption because they can’t do anything about the workers going on strike. In fact, Southern Rail is losing a vast amount of money from having to pay compensation to passengers affected by the strikes, as well as missing out on all the custom they would otherwise bring in. The company has made several statements trying to persuade workers to call off the strikes, but have so far been unsuccessful. In fact, Southern Rail put on replacement bus services and try to run a limited service even when RMT are on strike. The company is doing all it can to try and reduce disruption but, unfortunately, if the conductors and drivers won’t come to work, they can’t do anything.
Therefore, it is very unfair that Southern Rail are receiving such bad press as it is completely the fault of the unions that the disruption is happening. If the unions would simply call off the strikes and accept the terms Southern Rail are offering that all conductors’ jobs will be safe for five years. There are driver-only trains running all around Europe and in other areas of Britain and they are perfectly safe by all accounts. There are currently one more set of strikes arranged on the rail network, and hopefully they will be the last. The sooner this is over, the better.