New strikes expected on Southern and "summer of discontent"

The row centres over Driver Only Operated trains Credit: ITV Meridian

Rail passengers face "a summer of discontent" if train companies and the Government try to introduce more driver only trains on the network as expected, the RMT warned today, in an exclusive interview with ITV News Meridian.

In simple terms it is a warning of more strike​s on top of the 33 days of action Southern passengers have suffered in the last ten months.​

The union fear a number of companies will try to implement Driver Only Operation (DOO) in the coming months including at the biggest operator South West Trains. It has 650,000 ​journeys​ a day and is the busiest in Europe.

The union also revealed it will meet Southern next Tuesday for peace talks at ACAS but warned it would not accept "anything less than a guaranteed safety critical second member of staff on every train" that has one today. It warned more strikes would be considered unless Southern agreed to its demands.

With Southern not expected to change its position more action is now seen as real a possibility. RMT strikes lead to around a third of trains being cancelled, some 600 services.

Steve Hedley, RMT Senior Assistant General Secretary, said the deal done with drivers was "the worst since the miners dispute" and nothing short of a "sell out."

The RMT is asking drivers to reject the deal in a ballot of members. It says the move is unsafe and it will not stand by and allow passengers and staff to be put at risk.

Southern Rail passengers have faced months of disruption because of the dispute Credit: ITV Meridian

Meanwhile it is confirmed SWT is buying new trains with DOO fitted. The com​p​any has long had a policy of a guard on every train but its operating franchise ends in the summer and it is unclear if DOO will be part of any future agreement.

Current operator Stagecoach is biding against First Group for the franchise to be announced probably in May and starting in August.

150 carriages called "Desiro City" or "Class 707's" are being built in Germany for the busy Windsor line but any action would be company wide like at Southern. The trains are identical to new ones on Thameslink, operated as driver only, and will be introduced later in the year.

Stagecoach say it has no plans to implement DOO in the current franchise but could not give any guarantee for the future.

Details of the new franchise are secret until a winner is announced with the Department for Transport and the companies bidding not allowed to discuss it under strict competitions rules.

South West Trains has confirmed it is buying new trains with Driver Only Operation fitted Credit: ITV Meridian

Stagecoach said it had "absolutely no plans" for DOO at the moment but said it couldn't say what was being negotiated as part of the franchise.

The Government say it is up to individual operators to decide on DOO as it is "an operational matter" and the details of the new SWT contract would be announced ahead of the August start date.

First Group said:

The franchise competition rules say that we're not allowed to say anything at present other than the fact that we're shortlisted."

The RMT say driver only operated trains are not safe Credit: ITV Meridian

The Southern dispute centres on a policy that means drivers close train doors. The RMT say it is not safe and every train should have a second member of staff to check and help passengers who is safety critically trained. The drivers union agreed that while Southern will roster a second person the company could operate a train with the driver only in certain circumstances like sickness and the guard being late during disruption. The list even included the guard being left behind by the driver.

The RMT say it puts passengers at risk and there is no guarantee of help for the driver in an emergency. They say it also means the disabled may not have help to get them on and off trains.

Southern say DOO is safe and is on around 40% of trains. They say the new role where guards become on-board supervisors will mean they spend more time with passengers. They insist the move will mean a train full of passengers can run if a guard is late rather than it being cancelled. They insist there will be no job or pay cuts.