Train drivers belonging to the Aslef and RMT unions are staging their eighth walk-out in the current round of strikes in pursuite of a pay claim.
Members of working for 15 train operators will stop work, bringing most train services across England to a halt on Friday.
Since June 2022, national rail strikes in a tangle of disputes about pay, job security and working arrangements have caused problems for millions of train passengers.
Since then, stoppages causing massive disruption for passengers have been called frequently.
These are the key questions and answers.
Who is walking out and why?
Members of the train drivers’ union Aslef (together with a few drivers who along to the RMT union) are involved in a long and bitter dispute with 15 train operators, who in turn are dependent on ministers to approve any settlement.
The latest strike is in protest at an offer of 4 per cent for each of 2022 and 2023, subject to a range of modernisation proposals.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, says: “Not only is the offer a real-terms pay cut, with inflation running north of 10 per cent, but it came with so many conditions attached that it was clearly unacceptable.
“They want to rip up our terms and conditions in return for a real-terms pay cut.
“The proposal is not and could not ever be acceptable.”
The Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, says: “The rail industry is working hard to keep as many trains running despite the union leaders’ decision to reject an offer which would give their members an 8 per cent pay rise over two years, taking average salaries for train drivers up from nearly £60,000 a year to almost £65,000 a year.”
Which trains are cancelled altogether?
Many train operators cancelled all trains on Friday. They include several key intercity operators:
- Avanti West Coast
- East Midlands Railway
- TransPennine Express
In addition the main London commuter operator, GTR, has cancelled all services on its four brands: Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern and Thameslink.
Other affected operators are:
- Chiltern Railways
- Heathrow Express
- Island Line (Isle of Wight)
- London Northwestern Railway
- West Midlands Railway
Which train operators will run normally?
ScotRail and Transport for Wales are unaffected as they are not in dispute – though routes that are duplicated by English train operators (LNER, Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, TransPennine Express, GWR) are likely to be more crowded than usual.
In Scotland, trains from Glasgow to Oban, Fort William and Mallaig are delayed due to severe weather – as are the lines from Inverness to Wick and Kyle of Lochalsh.
Two limited regional networks – C2C network, connecting London Fenchurch Street with south Essex, and Merseyrail – are running normally.
“Open access” operators on the East Coast main line – Grand Central, Hull Trains and Lumo – will be running, but will be very busy.
The Caledonian Sleeper linking London with Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William should run normally.
Eurostar trains are running normally, but anyone arriving at London St Pancras International from Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam will not be able to continue by East Midlands or Thameslink trains.
Which rail firms are hit by the strikes but running some trains?
Hourly trains on the key lines to and from London Liverpool Street.
The Stansted Express will run from around 5am to midnight.
Other lines will run from around 8am to 7pm:
- Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester
- Southend Victoria
Hourly services on the key London Paddington-Reading-Swindon-Bath-Bristol Temple Meads line, with onward connections to Cardiff via Newport
Three branches from Reading:
And these branch lines:
- Exeter St Davids-Exmouth
- Exeter St Davids-Paignton
- Penzance-St Ives
Regular trains on the key lines from London King’s Cross to Yorkshire, northeast England and Edinburgh during the day and into mid-evening.
From Edinburgh, LNER trains will run south via Newcastle and York to London at 8.31am, 10.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 4.30pm.
More frequent trains will run from York, Leeds and Doncaster to London.
South Western Railway (SWR)
SWR runs from Britain’s busiest station, London Waterloo to southwest London, Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon, as well as operating the Island Line. Initially the firm said its mainland operation would be unaffected. Aslef drivers working at depots are walking out, but the train firm says it has contingency plans in operation.
But on Friday SWR has cancelled almost 300 trains because some drivers are unwilling to cross their depot colleagues’ picket lines.
The operator says: “Due to unforeseen staffing challenges caused by the national Aslef strike, we have a significant number of short notice cancellations across our network on Friday 3 February.”
What about airport links?
Heathrow will be connected to central London and much of the rest of the capital on the Piccadilly Line of the Tube, as well as the Elizabeth Line. The Heathrow Express will not run.
As mentioned, the Stansted Express is running hourly from early to late.
Gatwick, Luton, Birmingham and Manchester airports will not have any train connections on strike days.
In Scotland, Prestwick airport has normal services – and today a new station has opened serving Inverness airport.
Will other days be affected?
Yes. The Rail Delivery Group warns: “Morning services on those lines may also be disrupted on 4 February because much of the rolling stock will not be in the right depots.”
GWR’s Night Riviera sleeper between London and Penzance will not run again until Sunday night, 5 February.
How long will these strikes continue?
Aslef vs the train operators (actually directed by the government) is only one of three series of nationwide industrial action. There are also disputes between the RMT vs the train operators and vs Network Rail are also continuing.
But it appears that the RMT disputes may soon end with staff reluctantly accepting the offers from train firms and Network Rail.
Were it to happen, the industry would be stabilised. But train drivers appear a long way from an agreement. With salaries higher than other rail workers, they may feel more prepared to accept the financial losses of prolonged strikes in pursuit of their pay claim.