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300,000 commuters affected in London's Southern Rail strikes

LONDON Hundreds of thousands of British commuters faced travel chaos yesterday as train drivers went on strike in what is expected to be the worst rail disruption in decades.

Southern Rail, which runs trains between England's south coast and London, warned of severe disruption as it cancelled more than 2,000 services after workers launched three days of industrial action.

Up to 1,000 drivers are involved in the strike, which will affect around 300,000 passengers, including those travelling to London's Gatwick Airport.

A 48-hour walkout began at midnight Monday with a further 24-hour strike planned for Friday and another six days of action next month.

The long-running dispute centres on plans for "driver-only operated trains", which means guards would no longer be required to open and close train doors.

Union leaders have raised concerns about safety and possible job losses, although the rail company insists staffing levels will not be affected.

A train worker at London's Victoria Station told AFP that the changes, which Southern Rail says will free up guards to help passengers and handle emergencies, constitute "a real culture shock".

People at the station gazed at blank departures boards on Monday as railway staff offered advice on alternative routes.

Commuter Clarence Quaicoe, running late for work, told AFP: "Of course I'm upset... I'll have to take the underground where there are also severe delays."

Passengers on routes from Brighton and other key commuter towns in southern England have already faced months of disruption to services in a series of walkouts that began in April.

LOST BID

The latest strike comes after the train operator's owners, Govia Thameslink Railway, lost a legal bid to halt the action.

The shutdown is expected to cause the worst disruption on Britain's railways since strikes by signal workers in 1994.

Southern Rail said it was "sincerely sorry" that trains were at a standstill.

"These strikes are wholly unjustified and we must find a way forward," its spokesman said, adding it had invited union bosses to talks aimed at resolving the dispute.

A reduced service between Victoria, a key station, and Gatwick was running every half hour, Southern Rail said. - AFP

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