A rail company has been accused of a “deliberate and malicious attempt” to disrupt Brighton Pride after cancelling train services to the city.

No services south of Three Bridges will operate next Saturday, coinciding with the city’s Pride march and the headline performance of Black Eyed Peas in Preston Park.

The Argus understands that crisis talks involving Pride organisers and rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) have been taking place following the announcement by rail union Aslef to implement an overtime ban next week.

The Argus: Train cancellations are likely to cause travel chaos for Pride weekendTrain cancellations are likely to cause travel chaos for Pride weekend (Image: Simon Dack)

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef - which represents train drivers across the country, reacted angrily to the move and claimed the decision was “entirely of this train company’s own making”.

He said: “Let’s be clear - the simple fact is that this company does not employ enough drivers to deliver the services it has promised passengers, businesses and the Department for Transport it will run. That’s why it is dependent on drivers working overtime.

“Overtime, of course, is entirely voluntary, not mandatory - and drivers are not working overtime because they are in dispute with a company which has not given them a pay increase for four years, although the cost of living has soared in that time.

“GTR has known the date of Brighton Pride - and about its failure to employ enough drivers to deliver the services it should - for a very long time.

“Yet they are only running trains to Three Bridges, just three-quarters of the way down the line, in a deliberate and malicious attempt to disrupt the event and then to blame Aslef for its own manifest failings.

“That, I think, is beneath contempt. The company should do the right thing - give our members, their drivers, the pay rise they deserve - and give the people of Brighton the train service they need.

“The truth is that shift patterns mean that if services can run on a Friday, they can run on a Saturday. The company could have issued a special diagram to ensure people could get into - and out of - Brighton on the day.

“The fact that GTR has chosen not to run services for passengers on Saturday reveals that this is a clear, conscious and deliberate decision to disrupt and ruin Brighton Pride.”

David Jones, chairman of Aslef’s LGBT+ representatives’ committee, accused GTR of misinformation and “blaming train drivers for its own failings”.

He said: “No amount of painting rainbows on trains will detract from this cynical move, typical of the train operating companies during the current dispute.”

Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle has criticised the cancellation of train services and started a petition calling on GTR to work with Aslef to end the possible disruption.

He claimed the firm knew about the situation for months, but opted for “mass cancellations as a nuclear option”.

Mr Russell-Moyle said the city and its Pride events were being “held to ransom” and has started a petition calling on GTR to collaborate with the rail union to allow trains to operate as planned.

He said: “GTR are holding Brighton Pride to ransom and trying to blame Aslef. 

“Let’s be very clear, this is not a strike. GTR have had the bad business practice of relying on overtime to run their service, and now the workers are electing not to work overtime, as is their right, so it is up to GTR to make this work.

“There may be disruption, but the event would still be able to take place.

“I have spoken with Aslef, and they have said it would be possible to implement a shift pattern that could accommodation Brighton Pride.

“GTR is the largest train company in the UK - they have a monopoly on the Brighton mainline and they are now holding our city to ransom in a dispute they have caused.

“It is within the power of GTR to make this work and they must now urgently act.”

Mr Russell-Moyle has also asked the government “not approve this blockade of our city” and to step in if the dispute cannot be resolved.

People can sign the petition at www.megaphone.org.uk/petitions/save-brighton-pride-from-govia-thameslink-railway.

Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas urged GTR to get around the table with Aslef to resolve the dispute and prevent disruption to Pride.

She said: "This is devastating news for the city. Pride is one of the highlights of the local calendar for the LGBTQ+ community, and such an important day for so many small businesses in Brighton that have already been through an incredibly difficult few years.

"It is hugely disappointing that it has come to this, and blame lies firmly at the door of the government.

"Over recent days, I have been in contact with the train company and Pride directly to try and find a route through.

"I urge ministers to get train companies back round the table with Aslef to find an urgent solution."

Peter Kyle, MP for Hove, described the cancellation as "nothing short of a serious problem".

He said: "I have had high-level meetings this week with the boss of GTR where I've made my concerns known and begged them to move heaven and earth to find solutions.

"I'm hugely concerned about safety implications if a full service cannot run, and I know Pride organisers are working extra hard to find solutions too."

Brighton Pride and Govia Thameslink Railway have been contacted for comment, but have not responded to the accusations made.

A spokesman for Brighton Pride said they are awaiting confirmation of the details of the disruption and said: "As the city's main LGBTQ+ fundraising event, there are multiple local charity and community organisations who rely on the Brighton and Hove Pride weekend and for whom this news will be devastating."