Posted 19th April 2016

Injunction bid over 12-car Gatwick trains

UPDATED  13.05

GOVIA Thameslink Railway has launched a High Court action seeking an injunction allowing the operation of 12-car trains on Gatwick Express.

The legal move follows the refusal of ASLEF members to drive the first two Class 387 services that had been due to operate in 12-car formation over the past ten days. In a related development, members of the RMT have voted in favour of industrial action over the introduction of driver-only operation on Southern routes.

Gatwick Express services worked by the older Class 442 units have had five or ten vehicles, but the 4-car units now coming into service will be worked as two or three units, providing eight or 12 cars in each set. The first Class 387 entered service on the route as an 8-car set at the end of February, but GTR wants to run some 12-car sets to deal with increasing demand, with the eventual aim of providing half the service with the longer trains.

ASLEF, however, is opposing 12-car working with only a driver in control. The union argues that this amounts to an extension of driver-only operation, because the doors on the new services are operated by the driver aided by CCTV, rather than a conductor. Two services have been cancelled so far, with drivers saying that they could not see all the doors of a 12-car train.

GTR pointed out that Gatwick Express services have been worked with DOO since 1999, and that 12-car Class 387s with only a driver have been running on the associated Thameslink route for more than a year.

A spokesman for the operator said: "We launch legal action very reluctantly, but we have been left with no choice because of the position adopted by the ASLEF union. Drivers have safely operated the doors on Gatwick Express services for many years so passengers will find their refusal to drive the new trains baffling.  We will take any reasonable steps we can to defend the interests of our customers and maintain the Gatwick Express service with the new 12-car trains, which will increase capacity and reliability and give a more comfortable travelling environment for passengers.”

ASLEF has said it is balloting its members working for Gatwick Express and Southern over industrial action in connection with the DOO dispute. An spokesman for the union responded: "The agreements are in place to only have 10-car trains as driver-only, and to stop any extension of driver-only operation. Longer trains without guards are not safe for passengers, especially with the rise in sexual assaults, and not safe for drivers. This is purely greed and a cost-cutting measure risking safety – no member of the public has ever demanded a train without guards.”

GTR's application for an injunction is likely to be considered by the High Court soon.

Meanwhile, the RMT said today that conductors on Southern have voted for industrial action‎. The ballot, for both strike action and action short of a strike, is over driver-only operation, which the RMT said 'threatens jobs, conditions and public safety'.

The union said 321 votes were cast, and 306 were in favour of action. The RMT said it is calling for no extension of DOO, scrapping of plans to create a new post of 'on-board supervisor' and no conductor redundancies.

Southern operator Govia Thameslink Railway said: "A strike would be unnecessary and damaging. The changes we are making to the conductor role mean there will be no job losses and no reduction in salary for any staff, whilst passengers will benefit from having more visible staff on trains.“We are preparing contingency plans in case a strike does go ahead but in the meantime we urge the RMT to return to the negotiating table and discuss the changes to the conductor role we are seeking to make.”