Incoming South West Trains boss tries to stop fresh strike threats

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A crisis meeting between rail and union chiefs was taking place today to prevent the threat of Southern Rail-style strike action spreading to other busy London commuter routes.

Steve Montgomery, managing director of First Rail which takes over the South West Trains franchise on Sunday for the next seven years, was meeting RMT union leader Mick Cash. Union barons are seeking guarantees that guards will be retained on the franchose, which is the busiest in Europe and used by more than 650,000 passengers a day. 

They have warned it would “consider the use of all options” – a clear threat it would copy the Southern strikes if its demands are not met.

SWT is the only company in the UK to currently retain guards, who operate the doors, on all its 1,600 trains a day.The new operator said it had “no plans” to remove the second member of staff from its trains although it is not known whether they will continue to operate the train doors and conduct other conventional roles of the guard.

Southern Rail has been beset by strikes during the last 16 months over Driver Only Operation, known as  DOO, which unions claim is unsafe.

The RMT has expressed its “anger and frustration” at what it said is the lack of guarantee from new SWT franchise owners that there will be no extension of DOO on any route or service – including all those to and from mainline Waterloo.

Today’s meeting between the two leaders was arranged following a clash of letters. First MTR, a combination of FirstGroup and the Hong Kong-based mass transit giant, parent company of the new operator South Western, said: “Our plans are not committed to any one method of train operation.”

When questioned about DOO, Andy Mellors, South Western managing director, said: “We haven’t ruled any options out at the moment.” He added: “We have no plans to remove the second person on our trains.”

Mr Cash said: “The RMT is aware that the new head of South Western has told journalists that he will guarantee a second member of staff on their trains when they take over this weekend. We are meeting with the company to clarify just what they mean.”

A FirstGroup spokesman said: “We value the role of the guard, which is why we will always plan to retain two people on our services.”

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