South Western Railway strike: Thousands of commuters and Ascot racegoers face disruption

Simon Calder

Commuters using Britain’s busiest railway station, London Waterloo, face days of disruption as the latest strike over the role of guards gets under way.

From 18 to 22 June, hundreds of trains will be cancelled across the South Western network. The dates coincide with the Royal Ascot racing festival – to which many visitors normally arrive by train.

On main lines, services have been sharply reduced.

Between Portsmouth and London Waterloo, services are halved, with only one fast and one slow train an hour .

On the link to Winchester, Southampton and Bournemouth, only one train an hour will run, with an hourly shuttle from Bournemouth to the end of the line at Weymouth.

The Waterloo-Reading line, which serves Ascot, is reduced from three to two hourly trains. But South Western Railway says: “Additional train services will be in operation if you are travelling to Royal Ascot.

“Queueing systems will be in place at some stations during this event, so it may take extra time to board your train. “We recommend you check your journey before travelling and leave plenty of time to complete your journey.”

Many branch lines will have no trains at all, with bus replacement services on some, but not all, routes.

Trains between Southampton Central and Portsmouth are being cut to one train every two hours, with a change at Fratton required.

South Western Railway says: "Due to the nature of industrial action, please note that last minute changes may still occur. You are advised to check again before you travel.”

Members of the RMT union working as guards and drivers for South Western Railway are taking industrial action because, say officials, “heel-dragging” in talks over driver-only operation.

A protracted series of strikes came to an end in February with a general agreement, says the union, that “each passenger train shall operate with a guard with safety critical competencies.”

The RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “For more than three months we have sought to negotiate a conclusion to this dispute and it is wholly down to the management side that the core issue of the safety critical competencies and the role of the guard has not been signed off.

“That situation has been compounded by an insistence that future operational models will be governed by the protection of company profits and not the safety of the travelling public.”

A South Western Railway spokesperson said: “Clearly, they have decided to target popular events such as Royal Ascot with this cynical action which is driven by internal RMT politics.

”The RMT has always said it wanted us to keep the guard on every train which is what we have offered as part of a framework agreement. We want to move the conversation on to how we operate our new trains and take advantage of the new technology on board to benefit our customers.

“Fans attending events at Twickenham, Hampton Court, Royal Ascot, and elsewhere, are advised to allow extra time for their travel.”

Stormy weather could also affect South Western Railway services. The train operator says: “A band of stormy weather will cross areas of our network bringing some rain and potential thunder storms in the evening.

“The Hampshire region is predicted to be most affected, with the weather pushing from an easterly direction, and the worst of the storms taking place between 8 and 9pm.”