Church of England bishops called for an end to the ‘circle of blame’ in the ongoing dispute affecting Southern trains as another wave of strikes brought misery to travellers.
In a letter, the bishops in Sussex said the dispute was threatening the economic health and development of communities, and they called for someone to ‘lead the way’.
The church leaders said that those jointly responsible for the troubles on the trains have a ‘moral duty to alleviate the damage that the disruption is causing’.
The letter, by the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, and backed by the Bishop of Horsham, Mark Sowerby, and Bishop of Lewes, Richard Jackson, is jointly addressed to Southern’s parent firm Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), union leaders and the Department for Transport.
The letter said: ‘We understand the complexity of the issues for those jointly responsible for this dispute. But we believe they have a pressing moral duty to alleviate the damage that the disruption is causing to our communities.
‘The weight of responsibility in this dispute was summed up by someone who wrote to us, as bishops in Sussex, and put this simple question: “Who will break the circle of blame?”
‘Someone has to lead the way.’
Dr Warner called for union officials and GTR to renew efforts to bring the dispute to an end.
And he added: ‘In the context of this rail dispute, we assert the moral obligation of all parties in this dispute to consider first and foremost their duty to provide reliable public transport.
‘Those who are suffering most as a result of this dispute are working people and their families and those who do not have their own means of transport.
‘The ongoing dispute affects us all. It threatens the economic health and development of our communities. The winners in this dispute will be whoever has the moral courage and magnanimity to break the circle of blame.
‘Christmas and a new year mark a good moment to seize that prize.’
Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union leader Mick Cash said: ‘RMT accepted the offer from Brighton and Hove Albion FC to broker talks and we are making the same positive response to the bishops.
‘It is disgraceful that both the Government and GTR continue to throw back every offer to bring all the parties together to resolve this dispute.’
A Southern Railway spokesman said: ‘No-one wants an end to this more than us.
‘We have led the way in trying to resolve this dispute by talking to the unions for the best part of a year but they won’t move on the fundamental issue of helping us modernise our train service by letting a driver close the doors.
‘This would help us cut cancellations, reduce delays and improve on-board customer service.
‘The bishops ask us to assure the public of the safety and public benefit of our changes.
‘Both the Office of Rail and Road and the Rail Safety and Standards Board have said our plans are safe and this is how a third of Britain’s railways have run for decades.’