THE Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, spoke this week of the “misery” caused by disruptions to services on the Southern Rail route. He appealed to unions and the train operator to end their long standing dispute over proposed changes to the responsibilities of conductors and the introduction of driver-only operated trains.
Dr Warner, whose whole diocese is served by the Southern Trains franchise, wrote a letter on Monday, jointly addressed to the RMT and ASLEF unions; Govia Thameslink, Southern Rail’s operator; and the Department for Transport.
The letter was supported by the Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, and the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson, the diocese said.
Dr Warner wrote: “Disruption in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year deepens the misery of people across the whole of Sussex who are dependent upon this public transport service.
“We understand the complexity of the issues for those jointly responsible for this dispute. But we believe they have a pressing moral duty to alleviate the damage that the disruption is causing to our communities.”
Dr Warner said that while season-ticket refunds and 15-minute-delay compensation were a welcome acknowledgement of service failings, “refunds are no substitute for a reliable public service”.
He said that all parties in the dispute had a “moral obligation” to alleviate the disruption, and that the winners of the dispute would be whoever has the “moral courage and magnanimity” to bring it to an end.
The minister at the Department for Transport with responsibility for rail, Paul Maynard, is named in the letter. All four addressees are asked to “renew efforts to bring this dispute to an end”.
The RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash, said that the union would be “positive” in their response to the bishops’ offer to broker talks with Southern Rail.
The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, has offered to meet RMT leaders in order to avoid any more strikes. He has stated, however, that he does not think that it would be “right and proper” to join a negotiation that he thinks is “politically motivated”.