Rail and bus strike kicks off five days of industrial action

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Bus train strike
The strikes will affect New Forest stations including New Milton

PASSENGERS are facing strikes on the buses and trains tomorrow (Tuesday) at the start of a week of industrial action.

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The one-day walkout by Bluestar bus workers coincides with the launch of a five-day stoppage by fellow RMT union members in their dispute with South Western Railway (SWR).

Several Bluestar services link to Southampton from Lymington, the Waterside and Totton, and take in stops including Ashurst, Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst.

The strike by drivers, cleaners and ticket office staff is over employees’ demands for improved pay, and is likely to see fewer buses on the roads.

Reduced services are also expected from SWR trains, whose region covers the Christchurch and New Forest line, including the Lymington branchline.

The rail strike is the latest in the dispute between the RMT and SWR over the future of train guards, which has been ongoing for more than a year

The RMT insists the role is crucial for passenger safety and says the company’s promise to “roster” a guard on every service does not meet its call for a guarantee for replacements in the event of staff falling ill.

An SWR spokesperson said the action was “very disappointing” as it claimed there were dates in the diary for further talks to try to settle the issue.

He said: “However, they seem insistent on going ahead with their unnecessary strike next week which will impact our customers and colleagues alike. Clearly, they have decided to target popular events such as Royal Ascot with this cynical action which is driven by internal RMT politics.

“We will do everything we can to keep customers moving during these strikes but would like to apologise for the disruption this unnecessary action will cause.”

Reduced services are likely to be busier than normal and passengers are advised to plan their travel in advance. Rail replacements and ticket acceptance on other bus and rail networks have been organised where possible.

SWR, which is controlled by FirstGroup and Chinese firm MTR, unexpectedly won the seven-year contract in 2017. It had previously been held by South West Rail, owned by Stagecoach.

According to media reports, SWR is struggling to fulfil its franchise agreement profitably and has indicated it would be prepared to sue the government in order to make changes.

As reported in the A&T, the company has also asked the government to provide taxpayers’ money to make up losses incurred by the ongoing industrial action, which it is permitted to request under the franchise agreement.

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