Rail passengers across much of southern England face a month of disruption in the run-up to Christmas after talks to avert strike action ended without an agreement.
Members of the RMT union working for South Western Railway (SWR) are to carry out 27 days of industrial action from 2 December in a long-running dispute over guards on trains.
Throughout the whole of next month, full services will only run on 12 December, the day of the general election. There are no scheduled trains on Christmas Day or Boxing Day.
The action will affect commuters into and out of the UK’s busiest railway station, London Waterloo, on trains to and from Surrey, Hampshire, Berkshire, Dorset and Wiltshire.
During previous rail strikes, services on the main lines have operated at about half the usual frequency, while branch lines have had rail services cancelled altogether – with some, but not all, of them replaced by buses.
The guards’ dispute – with both SWR and other train operators – ostensibly centres on who opens and closes the doors on trains. But it masks a more deeply rooted conflict over the nature of the guard’s work in a railway system largely adapted to driver-controlled operation.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has attended discussions under the auspices of Acas for the past two days to discuss the issues in dispute.
“No proposals that would enable the development of a resolution to the dispute have been put forward by SWR.
“Throughout these talks SWR have not shown any intention of moving the issues at the heart of the dispute forwards, despite verbal assurances in earlier discussions.
“It has become increasingly clear that they are not interested in reaching a settlement at this time.
“As a result of the company attitude all planned action remains on, and the union is committed to ensuring the safest possible method of operation.
“RMT will remain available for discussions with the company at any time.”
An SWR spokesperson said: “We’re very disappointed. Despite promising to keep guards on all our trains and promising that they will have a safety-critical role, the talks broke down today.
“We believe these promises deliver on what the RMT has been asking for, so these strikes are unnecessary.
“We remain committed to finding a solution that works for our customers and we remain open to talks if the RMT decides to reconsider its position.
“In the meantime, our focus has to be on planning and delivering a train service for our customers.”
Additional reporting by PA