For those of you young enough not to have experienced British Rail, you won't know what it was like to sit on the most uncomfortable trains, eat the awful sandwiches, and drink the disgusting maxpax coffee. Those were the days when a train timetable was an aspiration rather than an accurate prediction of when you would arrive at your destination. When the rail unions went on strike, it affected the whole network. I remember as a child being unable to catch a train to go on holiday to Weston-super-Mare because the whole rail network was crippled. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen today.
Although it may not happen today, it is not much comfort to those whose journeys are a living nightmare because they have the misfortune to travel to work using one of the affected rail operators.
Last December I wrote an article for ConservativeHome that was published with the title, "Grayling must find his inner Reagan – and smash the rail strike that is holding commuters to ransom". I thought that by now something would have been done. Instead, we just appear to be in a state of limbo.
Members of the RMT union plan yet another walkout next week in its long running dispute with Southern. Just to make matters worse, Aslef has already implemented an overtime ban. But it's not just Southern customers who are affected.
On Saturday, members of the RMT who work for Arriva Trains North plan a three-day walkout. According to the Yorkshire Post, the union claims the rail operating company “continues to resist all efforts to make progress in the long-running dispute over rail safety and the head-long dash towards Driver Only Operation.”
As I mentioned in my ConservativeHome article last December:
"The unions claim that driver-only operated trains are dangerous, despite the Rail Safety & Standards Board stating that driver-only-operation (DOO) offers “no increased risk” compared to train operation with a conductor closing the doors. It went on to say that DOO could, in fact, “potentially deliver some safety benefits”, due to the removal of the risk of miscommunication between driver and guard."
Once again I am going to make a plea to the Transport Secretary. With Southern, he can intervene in the dispute. With other rail operating companies, he officially cannot. With Southern, he needs to do what I suggested last December:
"Just like Ronald Reagan 35 years ago, he should instruct the bosses at Southern to issue an ultimatum that is meaningful. There have already been enough empty threats, and it is commuters who are paying the price. If those striking drivers and guards don’t want to sign new contracts, that is their decision, and if they don’t, they must be shown the door."
With Arriva Trains North Chris Grayling needs to do some tough talking, bang heads together, and generally be the voice of the travelling public. Realistically, these strikes have to end at some point. They have to - there can't be strikes over DOO forever. But unless decisive action is taken, I think commuters will be facing fresh strike action in the run-up to Christmas, and I wouldn't be surprised if you can't catch a train to next year's Grand National.
This really needs to end.