So, what's this Southern Railway strike actually all about then?


It can't just be us who are a little confused about why exactly Southern Railway passengers are facing a whole week of travel chaos...

So, we thought we'd try and solve all the big questions surrounding the five-day strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT).

Sure, we know it's a bit of a long-running row, and it's something to do with conductors... but yeah, we need some help with the details.

OK, what is the dispute actually about?

train door
Southern is part of a huge franchise (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Well, it's all about doors. Southern - part of the huge Govia Thameslink Railway franchise - want train drivers to have responsibility for closing train doors.

But what would train drivers closing the doors mean?

Southern says on-board staff - like, say, conductors - would then be able to focus on helping passengers. And they're saying this will offer a better service.

Will any jobs be lost if that happens though?

woman wearing a rmt union jacket at a picket line
The RMT is opposing the role of conductors changing (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Southern says no jobs will be affected, pay will not be reduced, and the same "safe and tested" method is already in operation on 40% of its network.

But why is the RMT opposed to the move then?

Well, see, the union believes safety would be affected if the role of conductors is changed - especially with a rise in passenger numbers that's pretty relentless.

Right, got ya. Does the union accept the assurances on jobs?

mick cash, secretary of RMT
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, joins a picket line in London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Hmmmmm - the RMT is suspicious that giving responsibility to drivers will downgrade the role of conductors. They reckon that could lead to job cuts in the future.

Important question - is the strike being well supported?

The turnout in a ballot of members was 81%, and 77% back action, well above the threshold being brought in under the new Trade Union Act. In fact, the RMT said today's walkout was being "solidly" supported.

Hang on, there were talks last week - wasn't any progress made then?

A sign inside Victoria Station in London
Southern are running a reduced service of trains this week (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The two sides spent three days at the conciliation service Acas. But the talks collapsed, with a deal further away than ever. No more talks are planned.

Go on, break it to us - how bad is the disruption facing passengers?

Southern had already cut 341 trains from its timetable because of staff shortages. They will only run 60% of trains this week.

Erm, how are passengers reacting to that?

a train passenger who fought with rmt workers on picket line
Passenger Danyal Mustafa ended up rowing with RMT workers on a picket line outside Victoria station (Helen William/PA)

Southern has faced criticism for months because of delays and disruption - there's already been protests held by commuters and other travellers.

Danyal Mustafa, 39, who works in IT and travels into central London from Carshalton, ended up rowing with RMT workers on a picket line outside Victoria station where he told them "You are hurting the passengers".

Is Southern facing any more strikes?

Two other rail unions are balloting for industrial action - the TSSA over ticket office closures and the drivers' union Aslef over claims of a breakdown in industrial relations.

And what about the Government - are they doing anything to resolve the dispute?

A picket line opposite Victoria Station in London, as hundreds of thousands of rail passengers face a week of travel chaos
Another rail union are balloting for action over ticket office closures (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Ministers have condemned the union for the strikes. But the RMT has accused the Transport Department of "sabotaging" last week's talks.