Yet another strike coming up this week — South Western Railway is in danger a falling to the level of Southern in terms of bad service.
Whilst you can certainly blame the operators of the franchise for the high fares given the huge amounts of money they take out of the network you can't blame them for this disruption. It is perfectly reasonable for them to say that a train should still run even though a guard hasn't turned up. Given the high level of absenteeism among staff this happens all to often. The same trains operate perfectly safely without guards in other parts of the country.
As with Southern the RMT is going to call strike after strike on South Western Railway. They are not representing the working man in doing this as most of the people travelling on the train get paid less than the driver. Why doesn't the government just say that what is being proposed by the operator is legal and safe and ban any strikes on the issue?
Barry Elms ● 1154d22 Comments
So the RMT have now 'gone to the mattresses' on this issue. Can't see their members actually striking for 27 days. That an election is on at the time probably is relevant.
Tony Church ● 718d
With reference to the article now on the front page of this site about the cancellation of the strike it remains unclear whether South Western Railway have caved in as the RMT Union seem to be suggesting they have. The potential benefit for passengers on suburban services if a train can still run if the guard doesn't turn up is significant and you do wonder what on earth SWR were playing at if they let all these strikes happen then meekly caved in. With many of them at the weekend, the impact on passengers wasn't that severe and, as I've said before indicated that the union wasn't willing to inflict that much financial hardship on its members to win the argument.
Tony Church ● 977d
More strikes ahead have now been announced but mainly at the weekend which suggests the RMT's heart is not really in it.
Tony Church ● 984d
I was chatting to someone who knows about our railways over the holidays. He told me that the dispute on South Western Railway, which is causing more disruption today, is actually about only one set of new trains due for delivery this year — the class 701. These are going to replace older units on the suburban lines in from places like Reading and Windsor, so most trains through Wandsworth Town.
The new trains and carriages are classed as safe to run on a driver operated only basis. Therefore it is on these trains only that SWR are saying they would still run the service if the guard wasn't available. These are only a small part of the company's fleet. The issue with suburban services is that they go back and forth along their route several times a day so if a guard goes missing currently a lot more scheduled services are disrupted compared to one of the longer routes from the South West coast. Therefore SWR could massively increase their reliability ratios if they could effect this change.
Barry Elms ● 1028d
The cancellation of the strike on Saturday and the one on the Piccadilly line today is a good indication that the RMT are starting to feel a bit of pain. With Christmas approaching they will find it harder to ask their members to make financial sacrifices. Hopefully once November is over there will be a lull in all this industrial action until the New Year.
Barry Elms ● 1082d
The Standard is saying that a driver on strike for the full nine days stands to lose £1,200 so it will prove to be a very expensive holiday for them.
Peter Higgins ● 1098d
Next week's strike is likely to see a high level of support because many staff have taken the chance to book a holiday for the half term with their family.
Tony Church ● 1102d
A service is run during the strikes with up to 60% of trains operating but suburban services are not a priority because passengers usually have viable alternatives. This means if you use a station like Wandsworth Town you would get a skewed view of how much impact the strike is having.
Gordon Southwell ● 1104d
ASLEF drivers on Southern agreed a deal last year which is essentially the same as South Western Rail are offering the RMT plus they got a massive pay rise.
The RMT were happy with ASLEF for doing this but there haven't been any strikes since presumably because there aren't enough drivers in the RMT on the network to cause enough disruption. Conversely there don't seem to be enough ASLEF drivers on South Western to run a service when the RMT strike.
Tony Church ● 1110d
The RMT seem to have finally got serious about this by announcing a 5 day strike that will be genuinely disruptive.
It seems like South Western Railway users are about to enter into the prolonged misery that Southern Rail passengers went through. Southern were looking to introduce driver only trains — have they given up on that?
Alan Harper ● 1110d
It takes about 12 months for a train driver to complete his or her training (overwhelmingly his) but most of that is personnel related stuff and health and safety.The actual operation of the train is breathtakingly simple.
An airline pilot on the other hand will need much longer training. The time it takes is variable but they have to get 1500 of flying in and that will take years. A lot of flying is done by autopilot but it is essential that two people on an airliner can undertake the very complex operation of flying by plane.
According to a jobs web site if you are a captain of a plane on a mid-sized airline you will get somewhere in the region of £57,000 to £78,000. Pilots on the bigger airlines can get over £100,000 but that presumably is for the long haul flights where they will be away from home a lot. The figure given earlier for a train driver is £51,000.
If you take into account the shorter working hours, the long holidays and the very generous pension arrangements of the drivers the hourly rate of pay for both professions appears to be about the same. I don't see how this can be right.
Gordon Southwell ● 1115d
Perhaps I'm going soft in my old age but when you consider than a driver on SWT may have about 600-700 people to drive safely on his train at peak times then his salary (whilst higher than most of his passengers) compares reasonably with an airline pilot on £100,00 pa who may only have 200 people on his aircraft. Most of the flying is automated these days and it's just takeoff and landing where the skills are needed. We expect the highest standards from train drivers too and that will come with a price tag.
The management of the rail companies must take some of the blame too for allowing the situation to develop by failing to negotiate sufficiently robust contracts. I gather than many contracts do not require drivers to work at weekends and so they are reliant on drivers' "goodwill" to operate the services. How can this have been allowed to happen when they know they have to run a 7 day a week operation?
I also understand that on some of the operators' franchise agreements they still get paid even if they don't operate any services.
As far as the guards issue is concerned, I would meet them halfway. There is no real need for a guard on a 4 coach train but now that many SWT trains have 10 or 12 coaches then I personally feel happier knowing there is a guard on board. They could recoup some of the cost by enforcing the rules against the many fare dodgers!
Hugh Walton ● 1117d
You are probably right about engineering works although I think Network Rail are responsible for track maintenance so how it works out financially for the company is difficult to say. It would be interesting if they scheduled work for strike days but the lead times are probably too short for them to do that. I don't think the company's tactic of trying to suggest there isn't support for the strikes is going to get them very far. Counting staff who are not members of the union or who didn't vote and assuming they are against industrial action isn't justifiable. The terms and conditions that the union have got for their members are amazing and they are not asking for a huge financial sacrifice so it is not surprising the strike is heavily backed by members. Experience has taught them that even if they don't achieve their objective some benefit will come from walking out.
Tony Church ● 1122d
The company may be quite happy to see weekend strikes as what they are saving on wages may make up for lost revenue from trains that are half empty. You do have to wonder why we have so much weekend engineering work in the UK — other countries don't seem to suffer from it. If shutting down a line on Saturday and Sunday is revenue neutral then the train companies will not hesitate to do it. The unions now seem to have realised that to have any impact on the company at all they will have to strike during the week. It remains to be seen how this will go down with their members if the strike is prolonged. As the government seems prepared to subsidise the company for lost revenue they have no incentive to make any more concessions.
Peter Higgins ● 1124d
Not endorsing this point of view but the RMT would probably claim that by taking away the requirement that guards must be on trains the railway company will later on claim that they don't need to be there at anytime.
It's impossible to say how true that claim is but management will certainly be able to employ fewer guards because there will be less need for cover.
I don't know for sure but I would assume that the train company has a statutory responsibility to make their trains accessible and if they have made most of their stations unmanned they can't get rid of guards totally if wheelchair users need assistance to board trains so the RMT may be crying wolf.
Tony Church ● 1131d
But the strikes are not about the issue whether or not there should be guards but whether or not the train should run if there is not a guard. The disabled and the elderly suffer with the rest of us if there is no train and if the last train at night is cancelled due to the lack of a guard you risk being stranded at the station.
Can you explain to me why South Western Railways position, in which they will roster a guard on all trains but if the guard doesn't show for whatever reason the train still runs, is an unreasonable one?
Barry Elms ● 1138d
I am a rather elderly woman who often gets on/off a train at Wandsworth Town, travelling to/from similar stations. Quite often the only railway employee, other than the driver, anywhere is the guard. I have seen disabled people needing help. I have seen people needing on the spot help for other reasons — people with children, luggage, etc. Travelling at night I feel safer when there is a guard who gets out of the train and stands on the platform at each stop, checking that it is okay for the train to move. Purely on safety grounds, I support the strikes.
Jane Eades ● 1138d
The cost to a driver of a day's strike is about £240 but that could easily be recovered by working non contracted overtime if they needed. The basic pay for a driver on South Western is £51,000 so they can afford to miss the odd day. This is for a four day week so only about half the drivers are likely to be rostered on any given strike day. You might ask why someone so highly paid should even be thinking of striking. Notionally the issue is about guards on trains. It is perfectly reasonable for South Western to say that a train should be allowed to run if the guard doesn't turn up on time. Most of the delays and cancellations on trains are for this reason. It is unlikely that the drivers care that much about the guards but the unions see this as the thin end of the wedge. The government are looking long term at driverless trains because of the eye-watering cost of employing the drivers and their tendency to go on strike on a regular basis. If you got rid of guards, which most safety experts agree could be done without adding to risk, that might be seen as one step closer to driverless trains.
Barry Elms ● 1138d
It is probably one of the reasons for calling strikes on Saturdays but also fewer drivers will be rostered that day so the financial hit of not turning up for work will be reduced. This means that lower level disruption of this type can be sustained for much longer.
The RMT are an interesting beast. They aren't really like other unions and although they are solid Corbyn supporters they don't really fit the profile of his usual backers. Their general secretary Mick Cash, will be addressing the TUC to argue against the second referendum on Brexit. He is reflecting the views of his members which are generally only left wing when it comes to the issue of who should run the railways. The overwhelmingly white, male membership tends to be much more right wing on any other political matter.
Gordon Southwell ● 1140d
It's an interesting question. A friend who works for Transport for London told me that the unions on the Underground used to time strikes for England football internationals because that meant they had a much better chance of a yes vote on the ballot. The high disposable income of the drivers means they are one of the few groups of workers who can afford to go to these matches. The Saturday strikes on South Western Railway started around the same time as the football season so that could be one reason but I couldn't say for sure.
Barry Elms ● 1153d