Southern needs to continue to protect vulnerable female passengers on its train services, Lib Dems in Lewes and Eastbourne have urged.
Rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has been locked in a bitter dispute with the RMT union for most of 2016 over plans to change the role of conductors to on-board supervisors, with drivers left to open and close train doors.
The union has raised safety fears over the proposals, which it has argued could lead to GTR scrapping a guaranteed second member of staff on Southern services.
This week both Stephen Lloyd, former MP for Eastbourne, and the Lib Dems candidate for Lewes Kelly-Marie Blundell have demanded a safety guarantee for passengers and are calling for the Government to ensure there is always a second staff member on the train for safety and accessibility reasons.
However Southern described the intervention as ‘unwarranted scaremongering’.
Ms Blundell said: “For hundreds of women, travelling alone, often late at night, the presence of a conductor is a valuable safety measure on public transport. Proposals to remove conductors will leave many women, and men, vulnerable when they travel at night.
“The argument is CCTV will be present. But CCTV cannot intervene in a dangerous situation.
“With many people commuting to London, once the evenings draw in, this will become a real issue for many people.”
Passengers have faced months of disruption during the dispute with constant delays and cancellations.
A temporary timetable cancelling more than 300 trains a day was brought in back in July and saw most services between Seaford and Lewes axed.
But this route will be fully restored on Monday September 26.
Mr Lloyd added: “People in Eastbourne are suffering as a result of Southern Rail failings, and at the same time they are proposing changes which will leave people travelling late at night vulnerable and unattended.
“This whole shambles is totally unacceptable and it is time for the DFT to take away Southern’s management contract. It’s simply not working and Eastbourne is suffering as a result of the government’s inaction.”
A Southern spokesman said: “As a responsible operator, our priority is to improve levels of customer service on board our services, not make it worse. This is unwarranted scaremongering. We will have an On Board Supervisor on all the trains where we currently have conductors and more besides, and because they won’t be closing the doors, they will be better able to offer passenger assistance for everyone.
“There may be times when a second member of staff would not be available at short notice, such as sickness, but, unlike conductors, our On Board Supervisors will be able to work any route they are needed for, making it much easier to cover this eventuality. However, in exceptional circumstances we would be able to run the train with the driver only.
Under today’s arrangements those trains are cancelled, affecting not only the hundreds of passengers on that service but also many thousands more through the knock-on delays that result across the network.”
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