Transport Secretary hits out at union over Southern Railway dispute

A union has been accused by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin of having an "absurd" attitude over its dispute with train operator Southern Railway.

Mr McLoughlin claimed he shared the "fury" of passengers and insisted that the Government is "playing its part" by investing in the rail network.

The bitter dispute between the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and Southern broke out over plans to transfer responsibility for closing train doors from conductors to drivers.

But Mr McLoughlin said: "Most industrial disputes are about threats to employment or conditions so the RMT's attitude is absurd. There is no threat to safety, no threat to jobs, no threat to pay and yet they continue disrupting passengers' lives on a daily basis."

Southern began operating a revised timetable on Monday which has cut 341 trains a day.

The company said the measure would enable it to deliver a more "resilient" level of service. It insists it is pressing ahead with changing the role of conductors from next month.

Asked in an interview with the Press Association if he was pleased that the new timetable was in place, Mr McLoughlin replied: "No, I would rather the situation never existed to have to introduce an emergency timetable. It shouldn't be necessary.

"We are investing billions of pounds on this line - the work at London Bridge, the work at Victoria Station, the brand new rolling stock.

"I want passengers to get a better deal which they expect and demand.

"I'm really frustrated that with all this money we're investing, we're being held back by the RMT who seem not to want to discuss the issue."

The role of conductors has sparked a series of strikes by union members.

The RMT has offered to suspend industrial action if Southern agrees not to implement the changes.

Mr McLoughlin claimed the Government had gone "as far as we can" by saying that guards' jobs would be protected in a future franchise.

"Nobody is going to lose their jobs," he added.

"It's not in the union's interests - when we're investing so much money into the railways - to draw a question mark over whether this investment is going to be fully utilised.

"I don't want any investment wasted. I want a good train service.

"The story of the trains in this country is a unique success and the unions, the train operators, Network Rail and the Secretary of State should be working together to try and see the benefits that it's brought right across the country."

Commuters angered by delays to their train journeys staged a demonstration at Victoria Station on Monday night.

Southern has apologised to passengers for weeks of disruption, blaming high levels of staff sickness as well as industrial action.

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