A rail executive has admitted that an advertising campaign urging passengers to contact the Rail, Maritime, and Transport Union (RMT) was an "absolutely shocking" mistake.
Southern Railway has been locked in a dispute over the role of conductors on trains for months. In October, they posted a Twitter message and numerous ads in newspapers urging customers to contact the RMT because "they wouldn't listen" to the company.
However, this backfired as it led to a flurry of complaints by Southern's passengers against the company rather than the union, which has been taking industrial action for months in protest at the changes to conductors' roles.
Alex Foulds, deputy chief operating officer of Govia Thameslink Railway – the owners of Southern – faced criticism over the advert when he was questioned by councillors from the London Borough of Lambeth.
Foulds said the adverts were a "mistake", but added the RMT had also made mistakes, calling the current climate "very tense". He apologised for the level of service being provided by Southern Rail at the moment, whose services have been severely impacted for months because of the industrial action, staff shortages and other problems.
He admitted Southern was the worst-performing train operator in the country "by some distance".
Jennifer Brathwaite, Lambeth council cabinet member for environment and transport, said later: "The service provided by Southern is nothing short of scandalous.
"Lambeth's residents are completely fed up with cancelled and delayed trains on a seemingly daily basis, and we have been calling for the franchise to be taken over by Transport For London for a long time."