South Western Railway strike: Tens of thousands of commuters stay at home amid travel chaos

Simon Calder
Closing day: some South Western Railway ticket offices, such as Farnham in Surrey, were closed: Peter Love

“I left 45 minutes earlier than I normally do because of the train strike,” said Louise from Claygate, one of the many commuters who struggled in to work on the first day of a month-long strike.

“It was overcrowded, but it got me here,” she told The Independent on arrival at London Waterloo Station.

“Got to get to work, haven’t you?”

Yet around one-quarter of the usual 300,000-plus passengers who travel to Britain’s busiest station each weekday on South Western Railway (SWR) appear to have stayed at home, or found an alternative way to reach their desks.

Members of the RMT union are striking over plans for new trains on SWR which are designed for driver-controlled operation (DCO). The train operator wants to change the role of guards.

The RMT union wants assurances that “the guard will have an integral and guaranteed role in the despatch process,” and insists it is solely concerned about passenger safety and providing assistance.

The new stretch of industrial action is the latest in a long-running sequence of strikes.

The stoppage is set to continue until the New Year, though with a day back at work on 12 December for the general election, and two days off on Christmas Day and Boxing Day – when no trains run anyway.

Even though barely half of the normal trains were running on lines from Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey and southwest London, many commuters reported that their journey was no more difficult than usual.

Warnings that commuters might need to queue outside stations for rush-hour trains did not materialise.

On a test run from Britain’s busiest railway junction, Clapham Junction, to the busiest station, Waterloo, made at 7am – roughly the start of the rush-hour – there were few problems.

Platform 10 at Clapham Junction is normally one of the busiest in Europe, with departures every three minutes to Waterloo. Even though this fell to one every five or 10 minutes, there was no great crowding.

Elsewhere, trains from Reading via Wokingham, as well as Windsor via Staines, were very crowded, but not significantly worse than usual.

Reports from further down the line indicated more problems. Many ticket offices were closed – at at Farnham, a commuter reported, the ticket machine was broken.

One train from Tisbury was reported to be cancelled, but mostly the emergency timetable ran according to plan.

Keith from Surbiton said: “The strike caused me very few problems this morning. As luck would have it, the rescheduled train is more convenient for me, and half as full.”

But when asked for advice to the warring parties in the dispute, Louise from Claygate urged: “Talk to each other and work it out. Please.”

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