Staff at a rail company running trains between London and southern England have begun a five-day walkout. The strike will affect hundreds of thousands of commuters.
Workers at British rail company Southern Rail walked off the job on Monday in protest at plans by operator Govia Thameslink to extend the use of driver-only trains, thus making conductors largely redundant.
The strike will cause further disruption on a line that has already seen months of one-day strikes as well as delays and cancelations because of high levels of staff sickness.
Southern, which runs trains between the British capital and its densely populated southern commuter belt, has said it hopes to run 60 percent of its services, though no trains would operate at all on some routes.
The union that has called the strike, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), said the plan to dispense with conductors, who are currently tasked with opening and shutting the train doors, would be detrimental to safety.
"Our fight is with the company and the government, who have dragged this franchise into total meltdown," said RMT General-Secretary Mike Cash, adding that the union could not "sit back while jobs and safety are compromised on these dangerously overcrowded trains."
The train operator however argues that removing conductors would result in fewer cancelations, as only one staff member would be needed to operate a train.
Govia Thameslink's chief executive, Charles Horton, said that the union - one of the most militant in Britain - had refused to negotiate despite receiving guarantees about the future role of conductors.
"The RMT union is letting everyone down, and the action they are taking this week is unnecessary, unacceptable and unjustified," he told British broadcaster BBC.
If it lasts for as long as planned, the strike will be the longest walkout on a British rail service for almost 50 years.
tj/kl (Reuters, AP)