Hundreds of thousands of rail passengers faced travel misery this morning as South Western Railway workers walked out on a 27-day strike.
Customers have been warned that only around half of services will run, including those to and from London Waterloo, the country’s busiest railway station.
Services will be cancelled, replaced by buses or finish earlier than normal and trains that do run are expected to be busier than usual.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union are in a long-running dispute with SWR over planned modernisation of the service and its impact on the role of the train guard.
SWR is looking to introduce Driver Controlled Operation, where the driver is in control of the opening and closing of a train's doors, a responsibility currently held by the guard.
The industrial action is set to last over the Christmas period until New Year’s Day – the longest stretch of action against a major rail operator in living memory.
Talks between the two sides collapsed last week, with the union and company blaming each other for the failure to reach a deal.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the union is “angry and frustrated” that its proposals to guarantee the “safety-critical role” had been “kicked back in our faces”.
He went on to accuse the rail firm, or “their paymasters in government”, of wanting the strike action to go ahead for “politically motivated purposes”.
An SWR spokesman claimed the operator had promised a guard with a safety-critical role on every train in a bid to meet the RMT’s “outdated demands”.
However, he added that SWR was “not prepared to compromise on is the much-needed modernisation of the service”.
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