Commuters are bracing themselves for the longest wholesale shutdown of the Southern rail network starting next week.
Combined strike action by both drivers union Aslef and guards union the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will take place between 9 and 14 January, extending longer than the three-day strikes previously held.
The dispute between unions, Southern rail’s owners, Govia, and the department for transport is in deadlock and next week's industrial action will bring trains to a complete standstill on the network. Southern is urging passengers not to try and travel on the network as there will be no services running.
Both the rail firm and government are keen to drive through changes for driver operated doors. Unions argue such changes could impact safety on the network and are worried they may lead to job losses, something rail bosses argue is not on the cards.
With no talks planned between the parties involved, Govia appeared resigned to the fact the industrial action will go ahead.
A spokesperson for the rail firm said:
No one wants an end to this more than us. We’ve done our best to find a way forward and our door remains open for productive talks.
The news of near-inevitability will come as a further slap in the face to commuters who endured a torrid 2016.
A survey of over 1,000 Govia customers at the end of the 2016 revealed nearly half (49 per cent) were now considering changing their job as a result of the ongoing industrial dispute. Over 60 per cent of respondents said they experiencing mental health issues as a result of the poor rail service, according to the survey by the Association of British Commuters.
There is some good news for Southern rail commuters, however, as over the next couple of weeks the rail company will be contacting season-ticket customers to arrange for them to be refunded one month’s rail fares in compensation for what Southern termed “significant levels of disruption for much of 2016”.
“We really hope Aslef will call off this strike but if they don’t, we’re working very hard to see what we can do to help passengers. As soon as those plans are finalised we will be communicating those to our passengers,” said a Southern rail spokesperson.