Southern is hoping to reduce the reliance on overtime working and minimise disruption by recruiting more than 200 new trainees.
But drivers’ union ASLEF blames the operator for ‘eroding the goodwill of its drivers’ with endless cancellations, and claims the plans were a ploy by transport secretary Chris Grayling to get a ‘headline on a quiet Sunday’.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF said: “Southern Railways has never employed enough drivers to fulfill its franchise commitments; that’s why the company is cancelling so many trains, after eroding the goodwill of its drivers, who are no longer working overtime.
“It is currently cancelling 25 per cent of its services on non-strike days, because of our overtime ban.
“So it would need to recruit 300 more train drivers just to deliver the service it promised to deliver when it won its franchise.
“As for its plan to recruit a new pool of 200 trainees, I suspect, on cost, and retention of knowledge, it would be a nonsense.
“I see the hand of Chris Grayling here, who wants a headline on a quiet Sunday, rather than a sensible plan to resolve the problem at the heart of this industrial dispute.
“And I wonder which trade union these new drivers would join?
“No one has to be a member of a trade union, but 96 per cent of the train drivers in England, Scotland and Wales choose to belong to ASLEF.
“So I look forward to these new drivers joining our trade union.”
There are currently 280 drivers in training on Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern, but the recruitment campaign hopes to maintain numbers and reduce the reliance on rest-day working.
Drivers will receive a £49,000 salary when fully qualified, for a 35-hour, four-day working week, and benefits include a final salary pension and free travel.
Training a driver can take up to 14 months, and costs between £60,000 and £80,000.
A GTR spokesman said: “This campaign is a continuation of what is the UK’s largest recruitment campaign of train drivers ever undertaken to meet our on-going objective to maintain a pool of 200 trainee drivers across the franchise.
“This helps us bring in new fleets of trains across Thameslink and Great Northern and reduce to a minimum our dependence on rest day working so that we can deliver a more consistent service for our passengers.
“We already have over 200 trainee drivers across GTR but we’re launching a fresh recruitment drive on Southern today to bring in more trainees and reduce reliance on driver overtime.”