MP urges solution to Southern Rail crisis
Nick Herbert MP has this week urged the rail unions to stop holding passengers to ransom with needless and unjustified disruption.
The ASLEF train drivers’ union called three days of strikes this week, causing chaos across the region, with over 300,000 rail users unable to commute into work. Passengers report missing flights or having job offers withdrawn as a result of the network shutdown, whilst West Sussex businesses have lost major contracts.
The unions are striking to oppose the introduction of driver-operated doors, claiming they risk passenger safety. However, investigations by the two independent watchdogs – the Rail Safety & Standards Board and the Rail Regulator- both confirm the systems are safe, meaning the strikes are unjustified.
Already, over 60 percent of GTR’s services already operate without conductors and driver-operated doors have been safely operated on British rail networks for over 30 years. In peak times, around three such trains leave a London terminus per minute, full of customers, perfectly safely. It is used in other countries around the world including Germany and Japan.
Speaking out against rail unions on the BBC yesterday, Mr Herbert said “this strike clearly has a political agenda… the pay is being maintained – that’s why this is so ridiculous. Frankly it is the passengers who have been put last here, these are people who rely on this service to get to work… this has gone on for months because of the industrial action that has gone on between the strike days, and it cannot go on”. The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, reported that when he met ASLEF leader, Mike Whelan, “with virtually his first breath he promised me ’10 years of industrial action’”.
Mr Herbert has also criticised the performance of rail operator, Govia, noting that Southern had missed self-set targets to improve. “Because of the way the franchise is structured, there isn’t proper accountability… Whilst I am certain it is the unions that are currently causing most of the problems, there are separate underlying issues with the franchise”
Last week in the Telegraph (7 Dec), he outlined a four-point plan including making Southern Rail more accountable, providing compensation for passengers, investing more in South England’s infrastructure, and legal reforms to prevent “a few hundred staff” from holding “an essential public service to ransom on a bogus issue for months”.
Mr Herbert has been amongst MPs proposing new action to prevent strikes from crippling essential public services. He and other Southern MPs met the Transport Secretary again last night for urgent talks on the strikes. Responding to a question on whether strikes on essential services may be outlawed, the Transport Secretary said the Government would take a “careful look” at such proposals “because we can’t leave our railways exposed”.
Following news that talks between the unions and Southern had resumed at ACAS, Mr Herbert said: “It’s better news that the talks have resumed. All my constituents want is an end to this disruption which has gone on for months and is ruining their lives.”
1. To watch Nick’s debate with union leader Mick Whelan on the BBC Daily Politics yesterday, see https://goo.gl/1nYARJ.
2. Nick’s recent Telegraph article on the Southern Rail crisis can be read here.
3. The Transport Secretary’s response to passengers affected by this week’s strikes can be read here.