Geoffrey Theobald: Bring the Southern Rail dispute to an end

Geoffrey Theobald
Geoffrey Theobald

I was bitterly disappointed and frustrated to hear this week that members of the train drivers union Aslef had voted to reject the deal that their leadership had negotiated with Southern to resolve the year long dispute over who should operate train doors.

The decision to reject the deal was won by a mere 26 votes.

I really was hopeful before the announcement that, at long last, the end may have been in sight for the city’s long-suffering residents, businesses, commuters, tourists, students, patients and countless other people in our city who, as users of one of the busiest routes in the country, rely on trains to go about their daily business.

A positive vote to end the dispute would also have made the continuing action of the RMT union, representing the train guards, pretty much untenable.

Instead, we have the prospect of yet more disruption which has been damaging Brighton and Hove’s economy for the last year with the RMT union due to stage its 31st day of strike action against Southern on April 8, on Brighton Marathon weekend.

And where does this leave the Aslef leadership now that the deal that carried their full support, which they had put before and recommended to, their members has been rejected for a second time?

I have written previously that I think this dispute clearly has nothing to do with passenger safety as the unions claim.

The independent Office of Rail and Road has declared that driver only operation is safe and already works perfectly well on much of the network, including on Thameslink services using most of the same London to Brighton line.

The unions also know full well that no staff are being made redundant or having their pay reduced.

Put simply, this is a political campaign to try and prevent the introduction of new technologies and ways of working on the railway. Enough is enough.

We cannot continue to be held to ransom on this issue which is having such a damaging impact on passengers lives and our vital economy.

Geoffrey Theobald is the leader of the Conservatives on Brighton & Hove City Council.