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  1. ITV Report

550 trains cancelled a day in longest rail strike in 20 yrs

Around a third of all the trains on South Western Railway are being cancelled over the next five days due to members of the RMT union carrying out a five-day long strike over proposed changes to the role of train guards on South Western Railway (SWR).

The walkout means the cancellation of up to 550 trains services between Tuesday 23rd October and Friday 26th October, while half of all trains will be cancelled on Saturday 27th October.

Even though the rail company has said that it is providing replacement buses and advice on alternative options for travellers, the strike will lead to major disruption for travellers - not just commuters, but also families with children wanting to travel by train during the busy October school half term holiday.

The Rail, Maritime Transport union (RMT) is calling for fresh talks in a long-running dispute over plans for driver-only trains on the network.

Rail users at stations including Southampton Central and Farnborough told us that their patience is wearing thin.

The RMT's General Secretary, Mick Cash, said the strike was being 'solidly supported' and has written to members congratulating them on a 'magnificent stand'. He reiterated that the strike was over the safety issues his members are predicting if trains are removed from trains:

"Management can be under no doubt, having been balloted three times, of your determination to retain a guard with safety-critical responsibilities on all services.

"Every time a ballot result is due, management sit back and hope that the anti-trade union laws will get them out of trouble.

"Well, you have let them know in no uncertain terms that you will not roll over on this very principled stand.

"I have again written to management informing them that we are willing to meet at any time to try and resolve this matter and asking them to stop prevaricating and get back to meaningful negotiations.

"This burying their heads in the sand is not good for their employees or the travelling public - a travelling public that has also made it clear they want a guard on their train."

"RMT members are solidly supporting the strike action across the South Western Railway franchise this morning in the fight to put public safety before private profit."

– Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary
The train operator has put on replacement buses on various routes

In August, the British Transport Police revealed that the amount of crime on our railways had gone up by 14% on the previous year. The RMT said this rise contributes to some of the concerns that passengers may have about safety on trains if there is a reduction to guards on trains.

However South Western Railway insists that there would be no job losses if its plans to change the role of guards go ahead.

“The RMT is cynically targeting hard-working commuters, families trying to enjoy the half-term holidays and sports fans with its latest strike dates.

“We have guaranteed a guard to be rostered on every single service, and our growth plans mean more guards, not fewer. It is time for the union to stop spreading myths and causing misery to our customers and colleagues, and commit to resolving this dispute.

“If the union decides to continue with its unnecessary action, we will do everything we can to keep our customers moving and reduce disruption.”

"We have been seeking meaningful talks with the RMT union for months to try and resolve this dispute.

"We will repeat our offer of a framework for discussion to the union today and await their response.

"In the meantime, our priority is our passengers and keeping them moving over the next five days."

– South Western Railway, statement issued on 19th October

The two organisations are at an apparent deadlock.

The RMT is to hold a number of 24 hour strikes on Saturdays in November, which will affect the tens of thousands of rugby fans wanting to travel to and from Twickenham for England's international games.

If you are planning to travel by South Western Railway this week, you can find more information about the strikes and travel alterations and alternatives on the SWR website.