Misery for thousands of passengers hit by South Western Railway strike and delays

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
South Western Railway workers went on strike. Photo: PA

Thousands of passengers faced disruption, delays and overcrowding on their journeys to work on Monday as train staff began a month-long strike on a key commuter line.

South Western Railway (SWR) staff walked out over fears for guards’ jobs on the company’s new trains, with a union saying it had “rock solid” support for the industrial action.

Passengers shared their frustration on social media at long cold waits on station platforms, overcrowded trains and delays to their journeys.

The operator ran a significantly reduced service, with some replacement bus services, less frequent trains and services ending earlier. Commuters have been urged to check the dedicated strike page on the SWR website for the latest updates.

Even many of the services still running on Monday morning faced delays on top of the limited timetables, sparking anger from passengers at further disruption. The operator faced a track circuit failure between Reading and Ascot that caused fresh delays across the network.

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The walkout is scheduled to run from Monday for 27 days until New Year’s Day, in one of the longest rail strikes in recent history.

Talks ended without progress last week between the rail firm and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union in a long-running dispute over guards’ futures.

Passenger anger over a month of strikes

One passenger wrote on Twitter: “I’m not delayed I’m just squashed into a service. I have just had to leave a service due to a panic attack. How do you expect me to get to work this December?”

London firm Marjoram Architects tweeted: “We are a small business and for everyday my staff are unable to get into the office due to these unacceptable strikes.

“We will be seeking compensation from South Western. To strike for nearly the whole of December is a complete disgrace.”

The RMT protesting outside Waterloo station. Photo: PA

Union says strike ‘solely about protecting safety’

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "‎RMT members are standing rock solid and united on South Western Railway this morning as we begin a full month of strike action in support of the safest method of train operation and despatch.

“This strike is solely about protecting safety and accessibility on SWR trains. The union believes that cutting the guard out of the despatch process reduces the second person on the train to little more than a passenger in the longer term which would give the company the option of axing them all together at some point down the line.

"Instead of spending a fortune mobilising an army of under-trained and potentially dangerous contingency guards the company should be back round the table with the union concentrating on reaching the negotiated settlement that is easily within grasp, which they committed to verbally in earlier talks and which would cost SWR nothing."

RMT official Steve Hedley also told Sky News on Monday: "No one wants to lose 28 days of pay coming up to Christmas.”

SWR says it has done ‘everything we can’

But SWR has said in a statement it has done “everything we can and more” to meet the RMT’s demands by promising a guard on every train, but would not compromise on introducing new trains.

It said last week: “What we are not prepared to compromise on is the much needed modernisation of the service with improved performance, safety and customer service that our new fleet of modern suburban trains will vitally deliver for customers.

“We know our passengers will welcome over 10 million more passenger journeys a year arriving on time and this much needed improvement to our service is too important to compromise.

“Unfortunately it is clear to us that the RMT is unclear on what this dispute is about and intent on striking no matter what.”

Visit the ‘industrial action’ page on the South Western Railway website for the latest updates on services and full details of affected lines and revised timetables.