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South Western Railway boss promises more trains during strike chaos

Exclusive: ‘We’ll build on our timetable during the period of the strike’ – Andy Mellors, managing director, SWR

As the month-long strike on South Western Railway begins, the boss of the train operator has told The Independent he intends to step up the number of services running as the stoppage goes on.

Members of the RMT union working for the firm are taking industrial action for almost all of December.

As part of a long-running dispute over the role of guards, they plan to walk out every day from 2 to 31 December, except for the day of the general election (12 December), Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Just over half the normal number of trains are running in and out for Britain’s busiest railway station, London Waterloo.

Major links to and from southwest London, Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire are operating at reduced frequency, while some lines are closed altogether.

leftCreated with Sketch. rightCreated with Sketch. 2 December 2019
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2 December 2019
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England captain Joe Root celebrates reaching his double century during day 4 of the second Test match against New Zealand at Seddon Park in Hamilton, New Zealand

Getty

1 December 2019
2/50 1 December 2019

A hard frost is seen on the first day of the meteorological winter in Pitlochry, Scotland

Reuters

30 November 2019
3/50 30 November 2019

A police officer looks at flowers left at London Bridge in central London, after a terrorist wearing a fake suicide vest who went on a knife rampage killing two people, and was shot dead by police

PA

29 November 2019
4/50 29 November 2019

School children and students take part in the Youth Strike for Climate in London as part of the Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike

Angela Christofilou/The Independent

28 November 2019
5/50 28 November 2019

Cyclists make their way up a tree lined hill near to Moor Crichel in Dorset. November's dismal weather will finally change, with drier and colder conditions coming for the start of December, forecasters have said

PA

27 November 2019
6/50 27 November 2019

The moment a swan flew over a flock of 60,000 starlings as dusk fell on Whixall Moss Nature Reserve in Shropshire

Andrew Fusek Peters / SWNS

26 November 2019
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SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon plays with local children during a visit to the Jelly Tots & Cookies Play Cafe in Uddingston, South Lanarkshire

PA

25 November 2019
8/50 25 November 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses with sheep as he visits the Royal Welsh Showground, in Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, whilst on the General Election campaign trail

PA

24 November 2019
9/50 24 November 2019

Cush Jumbo attends the 65th Evening Standard Theatre Awards at London Coliseum

Getty Images

23 November 2019
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Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn meets a supporter on a train on his return from a visit to Sheffield

PA

22 November 2019
11/50 22 November 2019

Gallery assistants adjust 'The Ancient Town of Uglich' by Konstantin Yuon, 1913, estimated at £600,000 to £800,000, during a press preview of the sale of works by some of the most pre-eminent creators of Russian art at Sotheby's in London

PA

21 November 2019
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PA

20 November 2019
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After Mauricio Pochettino's sacking the eveninfg before newly appointed Tottenham head coach, Jose Mourinho, takes his first training session in charge

Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty

19 November 2019
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Jimmy Egan's Boxing Academy at Wythenshawe, while on the campaign trail ahead of the General Election

PA

18 November 2019
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Mist over Buttermere lake in the Lake District

PA

17 November 2019
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Stefanos Tsitsipas lifts the winners trophy after beating Dominic Thiem at the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London

EPA

16 November 2019
17/50 16 November 2019

Duke of York, speaking for the first time about his links to Jeffrey Epstein in an interview with BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis

BBC/PA

15 November 2019
18/50 15 November 2019

Brazilian indigenous leader, Kreta Kaingang from the Kaingang People, holds a petition letter with over 200,000 signatures asking the UK government to suspend trade talks with Brazil until the Amazon and its people are protected, as he poses outside 10 Downing Street

AFP via Getty

14 November 2019
19/50 14 November 2019

Spanning all four spaces and the corridor of the White Cube Bermondsey gallery Anselm Kiefer's new exhibition encompasses large-scale painting and installation

Rex Features

13 November 2019
20/50 13 November 2019

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wears a pair of mittens that say 'Pick Pam', referring to Labour MP Pam Duncan-Glancy (not pictured) as he visits the Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre in Glasgow

Getty

12 November 2019
21/50 12 November 2019

Head glass conservator Sam Kelly inspects the Angeli Laudantes and Angeli Ministrantes stained glass windows at Salisbury Cathedral as restoration work to clean, conserve and restore the windows, installed in 1879, gets underway

PA

11 November 2019
22/50 11 November 2019

Flooding in the village of Fishlake near Doncaster after a month's worth of rain fell in 24 hours

PA

10 November 2019
23/50 10 November 2019

World War II Supermarine Spitfire fighter performs a flyover over White Cliffs of Dover during Remembrance Sunday celebrations

Reuters

9 November 2019
24/50 9 November 2019

Snow falling in Glyn Ceiriog near Llangollen in Denbighshire

Steffan Williams/PA

8 November 2019
25/50 8 November 2019

Scottish National Party candidates, including SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford (centre left) and Nicola Sturgeon (centre), with a Brexit message at the party's General Election campaign launch in Edinburgh

PA

7 November 2019
26/50 7 November 2019

Delivery lorry stuck in flood water at Coston Ford, Leicestershire after heavy rainfall in the area

PA

6 November 2019
27/50 6 November 2019

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement to announce the general election at Downing Street in London, Britain

Reuters

5 November 2019
28/50 5 November 2019

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson speaking at the launch of their general election campaign at the Institute of Civil Engineers in London

PA

4 November 2019
29/50 4 November 2019

Pelicans in St James's Park in central London

AFP/Getty

3 November 2019
30/50 3 November 2019

Dancers perform a mass Ghoomar dance during Diwali celebrations in Trafalgar Square, London

Reuters

2 November 2019
31/50 2 November 2019

Campaigners listen as SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon addresses a rally calling for Scottish independence in Glasgow

AFP via Getty

1 November 2019
32/50 1 November 2019

Police and recovery workers remove a damaged bus from the scene of a crash in Sevenoaks Road, south-east London. A man has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving after a person died and 15 others were injured

PA

31 October 2019
33/50 31 October 2019

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gestures as launches the party's election campaign in south London. Britain will go to the polls on December 12

AFP via Getty

30 October 2019
34/50 30 October 2019

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon joins Alyn Smith, the SNP's candidate for Stirling, at the Made in Stirling Store and Creative Hub, during the general election campaign trail

PA

29 October 2019
35/50 29 October 2019

A 1264 locomotive travels through an autumn scene along the North York Moors National Park

PA

28 October 2019
36/50 28 October 2019

Paul Hayes of Lower Lydbrook ferries children to dry land after the River Wye burst its banks flooding the Gloucestershire village

PA

27 October 2019
37/50 27 October 2019

Cosplayers during the third day of London's Comic Con

PA

26 October 2019
38/50 26 October 2019

England fans celebrate after their side beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-final match in Japan. Eddie Jones’s side won 19-7

PA

25 October 2019
39/50 25 October 2019

Meerkats at Blair Drummond Safari Park, Stirling, investigate a carved pumpkin as the park celebrates national pumpkin day on Saturday October 26.

PA

24 October 2019
40/50 24 October 2019

A giant inflatable monster, created by artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas, is unveiled in Manchester ahead of the city's annual halloween celebrations

PA

23 October 2019
41/50 23 October 2019

Thirty-nine bodies have been found in a lorry container in Essex, police have said. The discovery of 38 adults and one teenager was made at an industrial estate in Thurrock. Police said they believed the lorry had come from Bulgaria and entered the UK at Holyhead, in Wales, on Saturday. Essex Police said it had launched a murder investigation after its officers were called to Waterglade Industrial Park, in Grays, in the early hours of Wednesday morning. A 25-year-old-man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder

PA

22 October 2019
42/50 22 October 2019

Ships out at sea before the sun rises off the coast of Whitley Bay, Northumberland

PA

21 October 2019
43/50 21 October 2019

Hundreds of students take part in the traditional Raisin Monday foam fight on St Salvator's Lower College Lawn at the University of St Andrews in Fife. The messy display is the culmination of a weekend of festivities where first years say thank you to their more senior student "parents" for mentoring them

PA

20 October 2019
44/50 20 October 2019

Wales players celebrate after beating France in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Japan. Warren Gatland’s side had to battle after France’s fast start but capitalised on their rivals’ ill discipline to squeeze into the semi-finals, 20-19

Reuters

19 October 2019
45/50 19 October 2019

People gather in London to join the Final Say march for a people's vote

Angela Christofilou/The Independent

18 October 2019
46/50 18 October 2019

Protesters on Whitehall in London during an Extinction Rebellion climate change protest

PA

17 October 2019
47/50 17 October 2019

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson shake hands during a news conference after agreeing on a Brexit deal, in Brussels

Reuters

16 October 2019
48/50 16 October 2019

A man walks his dog through the fallen leaves in Clarkes Gardens, Allerton in Liverpool

PA

15 October 2019
49/50 15 October 2019

Police officers carry away an activist as Extinction Rebellion protesters block a road with a caravan in central London

Reuters

14 October 2019
50/50 14 October 2019

Queen Elizabeth II sits with Prince Charles on the Sovereign's throne ahead of delivering the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament

AFP

Andy Mellors, managing director of South Western Railway (SWR), said: “We absolutely share the frustration of our customers that the RMT have decided to call this unprecedented period of industrial action.

“It’s really important that we publish a timetable we have confidence in delivering. If we get more confident that we have more staff coming into work, then of course we will look to build on that, particularly at peak times when we know it’s going to be challenging for commuters.”

Most trains are being staffed by “contingency guards”, who are SWR employees working in different roles trained to work on passenger services.

In addition, up to one in four guards had come into work during previous spells of industrial action, according to SWR.

But the union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “RMT members are standing rock solid and united on South Western Railway this morning as we begin a full month of strike action in support of the safest method of train operation and despatch.

“Cutting the guard out of the despatch process reduces the second person on the train to little more than a passenger in the longer term which would give the company the option of axing them all together at some point down the line.”

Line men: RMT union pickets outside Waterloo station in central London (Simon Calder)

The union’s senior assistant general secretary, Steve Hedley, told The Independent that he was “shocked and astounded” with the way that a previous proposal by SWR was withdrawn. Mr Hedley said that it would have seen the doors opened by drivers but closed by the guards.

“There was clear political interference by the government,” said Mr Hedley.

But Mr Mellors said: ““We haven’t moved the goalposts. What we want to do is make our guards more customer-facing.

“On our suburban network, our station stops are every two to three minutes apart. Many of our customers don’t get to see our guards.

“Our proposals would actually make our guards more customer-facing, and deliver improvements in safety, security and accessibility, which is actually what the RMT said this dispute was about in the first place.”

The Labour Party has promised, if elected, to spend an extra £100m annually to restore guards on trains nationwide.

As the row continues, budget hotel rates in central London soared over £200 – partly through demand from commuters hit by the SWR strike.

The two Premier Inns nearest to Waterloo station were selling at more than £170, around 50 per cent more than the usual rates.

The Leicester Square property of the chain was advertising its “last few rooms” at £207.

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