UK's South West Trains to axe 480 jobs

LONDON Thu Jan 15, 2009 4:26pm GMT

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LONDON Jan 15 (Reuters) - South West Trains, run by train operator Stagecoach Group (SGC.L), said on Thursday it was to axe 480 jobs including managerial staff, blaming an expected fall in passenger numbers because of the economic downturn.

SWT, which runs services between London's Waterloo station and southwest England, said the decision followed a review of its cost base and would be subject to consultation with staff.

Managerial and administrative posts will be among those cut but train drivers, guards and other frontline maintenance staff will be unaffected. The cuts would not affect services, the company said.

"Taking into account existing vacancies and posts which have been withdrawn, this will mean the actual number of people leaving the company will be around 200," SWT said in a statement.

"We hope to achieve some of this through natural turnover or voluntary redundancy. However, we cannot rule out compulsory redundancies."

When it announced its first-half results in December, Stagecoach warned of a potential slowdown in its UK train business due to the economic impact on London commuters, prompting a sharp fall in its share price.

Despite a 24 percent rise in half-year profit, the company defended a decision to raise fares in January on its SWT services by above the rate of inflation, saying its costs had also risen above inflation.

Rail union RMT vowed to fight any compulsory job losses with "every means at its disposal", saying Stagecoach had recently increased shareholder dividends by 33 percent.

"These privateers are supposed to be running a public service, but as soon as their massive profits come under threat the first people to suffer are the people who actually do the work," said RMT General Secretary Bob Crow.

"There is no way that SWT can cut these jobs without affecting the quality of service that passengers receive and putting a greater burden on the workforce that remains."

On Tuesday, the government said it had vetoed plans by SWT to cut ticket office opening hours at 114 stations because they were not in passengers interests.

Ministers said it could only reduce opening times at those which have fewer than 12 sales an hour.

(Reporting by Michael Holden)

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