Rail commuters are braced for a week of travel chaos across London, Surrey, Sussex and Kent after Southern Rail staff started their five-day strike. Negotiations to avert a walk-out broke down on Friday (5 august) leaving hundreds of thousands of passengers with the prospect of cancelled or delayed services and packed train carriages.

Southern claims 60% of its trains will operate on an emergency timetable for five days from Monday (8 August) but some services, including ones to Tonbridge and Hastings, will not run at all. It had warned of "significantly reduced" services between 7.30am and 6pm between South Croydon and East Grinstead in Sussex as well as on lines in swatches of west and east Sussex.

Services between Brighton and London are expected to be packed, and according to Southern's live departure board, will be subject to last minute alterations from 7.30am.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union members are walking out over changes to the role of conductors, whose duty of closing doors will be given to drivers. Commuters already bore the brunt of unofficial industrial action in recent weeks after high numbers of staff reported sickness. Talks between RMT and Southern's operator Govia Thameslink (GTR) came to nothing on Friday when the rail operator refused to suspend the strike.

Southern Rail
Services across Sussex, Surrey and Kent will be affected by the Southern strikeSouthern

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said of the talks: "It was clear right from the start that there was no serious intent from Govia Thameslink to engage in genuine negotiations, and that their script was being written from behind the scenes by their government paymasters. I have been involved in countless negotiations and have never witnessed a farce like this."

The Southern fiasco prompted calls for its services to be brought under national ownership with both the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan backing moves to bring back nationalisation of the railway. "I want to see Southern back in public ownership," Corbyn last week, "I don't believe it's fulfilling its obligations under the franchise it was given."