They have only been in charge 11 days… but the new owners of South Western Railway are already facing strike action.
The company is being dragged into the widening dispute over the role of train guards.
The Rail Maritime and Transport union announced yesterday that its members will be balloted over a walkout.
The militant union said SWR, a consortium of First Group and Hong Kong-based MTR, had failed to give a ‘water-tight pledge’ on the future of guards. The union said it had been met with a ‘barrage of spin and prevarication’.
Only 11 days after taking charge, the new owners of South Western Railway are already facing strike action (file photo of Southern Rail strike)
Guards and a small number of drivers will vote on whether to strike and take other action, including refusing to work overtime and on rest days.
The announcement comes as the RMT begins a new round of industrial action on Merseyrail, Northern and Southern today.
The latest dispute is another blow to those using SWR, which has just taken over operating commuter services to Surrey, Hampshire, Dorset and the West Country from London Waterloo.
They have already endured weeks of disruption because of major engineering works taking place at Waterloo.
The project to extend the platforms so they can accommodate longer trains was meant to be completed on Tuesday but passengers have continued to endure delays and cancellations due to signalling problems and other technical issues.
Yesterday SWR said there was a problem with the equipment that connects its signalling centre to equipment in the Wimbledon area.
Passengers have been promised ‘better trains, more seats and quicker journeys’ since SWR took over from Stagecoach on August 20.
The Rail Maritime and Transport union announced yesterday that its members will be balloted over a walkout (file photo of London underground strike)
But they now face becoming dragged into the same industrial dispute that has caused travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of commuters across the country.
The RMT claims the move to driver-only trains – leaving drivers to open and close the train doors rather than guards – is dangerous. It is supported by drivers’ union Aslef.
It wants rail operators to guarantee that every train will have a guard.
But the safety warning has been rejected by independent rail safety watchdogs, with driver-only trains operating across the UK for decades.
An SWR spokesman said: ‘This dispute is unnecessary. We have made it perfectly clear that we plan to retain a second person on our services as we know that our passengers value the assurance and assistance a second member of on-board staff provides.’
The RMT confirmed that it will begin another round of strikes on Merseyrail, Northern and Southern today. Merseyrail will be hit by a walk-out today, and on Sunday and Monday. Northern and Southern face similar action today and on Monday.
Merseyrail said a reduced train service will run across its network on strike days, with no trains for a few hours in the middle of the day.
Arriva Rail North said it aims to run more than 900 services today and on Monday, mainly between 7am and 7pm, with services on some routes finishing earlier.
Southern, where the dispute has dragged on for 17 months and cost the local economy millions, is planning to run 90 per cent of services, although it is asking passengers to check before they travel for updates on the day.