Waterloo commuters warned they could face strike misery

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Strikes over driver-only train operation could spread to busy routes to and from Waterloo station, union leaders have warned.

It came as RMT bosses prepared to announce more walkouts among its on-board supervisor members on neighbouring Southern Rail in its long running dispute over changes to the role of the guard.

The RMT threat to escalate the dispute across London commuter routes comes before new operators First MTR – a combination of First Group and the Hong Kong based mass transit giant – takes over from Stagecoach-owned South West Trains (SWT) next month.

It is the busiest franchise in Europe and used by more than 650,000 passengers a day – more than 100,000 travelling into Waterloo during the morning peak alone.

Union fears over DOO (driver-only operation) escalated when it was revealed a £210 million fleet of new trains – the first operating on the Windsor line next month – are fitted with DOO equipment.

Senior sources at Stagecoach, current SWT operators, believe they were “marked down” by government during efforts to retain the franchise because they refused to give a commitment not to use DOO – all their services currently have a guard.

RMT leaders have been meeting with First MTR over the DOO issue. The union today expressed its “anger and frustration” over what it said was the lack of any guarantee from the company.

In a clear threat it would copy the strikes currently causing mayhem across neighbouring Southern Railways the union said it would “consider the use of all options” at its disposal.

Union demands to First MTR include no extension of DOO on any route or service; the guard to be in full operational control of the power operated doors and no “abolishing or reduction in the safety critical role of the guard.”

The hard-line union response came after it said it received a letter from First MTR stating; “At this stage, we are not committed to any one way of operation… Regarding other roles, our plans involve increases in front line staffing in certain areas to improve our customers’ experiences.

“We will share these plans after 20 August when the new franchise commences.”

Mick Cash, the RMT leader, said: “The company’s response is totally unacceptable and we can only assume that this is a blatant attempt at looking to roll out DOO on the new franchise at some point, whilst cutting staff.

“There is currently a longstanding  agreement in place that there will be no extension of  DOO and no threat to guards jobs or roles and that agreement transfers with the undertaking to First MTR.

“The union is now seeking a meeting with the company to gain assurances on all the issues we have raised with them. If no assurances are forthcoming then our executive committee will consider the use of all other options at their disposal.”

The RMT has already staged 33, 24-hour, walkouts on Southern. The train drivers union Aslef has announced three further strikes to take place on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, the 1,2 and 4 August in the same dispute – each walkout by drivers will halt more than 2,000 trains a day including the Gatwick Express.

Southern says the strike have been timed deliberately to cause to most disruption as possible and will effect services the entire week because of stock being out of place.

The drivers’ dispute is over pay and DOO with a 24 per cent pay rise over four years rejected. It would have meant drivers, with overtime, could have taken home £75,000 a year.

The unions say DOO is unsafe – claims robustly rejected by rail industry chiefs who say it has been widely and safely used across the UK.

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