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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Simon Calder

Train strikes: what’s happening in October and how will rail passengers be affected?

Simon Calder

National rail strikes in disputes over pay, working conditions and jobs have been taking place since June. Another series will hit millions of passengers in early October.

The first strike of the month took place on Saturday 1 October, the day before the Conservative Party conference opened in Birmingham and the eve of the London Marathon. The next date, Wednesday 5 October, coincides with the end of the Tory conference ends.

Meanwhile a third strike, on Saturday 8 October, is aimed at wrecking the plans of leisure passengers.

But which train routes and operators are involved and what will the effects be?

Who is striking – and when?

The RMT union called walk-outs for 1 and 8 October, involving more than 40,000 members working for Network Rail and 14 individual train operators. The union said that these strikes will “effectively shut down the railway network”.

The 1 October industrial action coincided with a strike involving train drivers working for 12 rail firms and belonging to the Aslef union. The stoppages brought the vast majority of services – 89 per cent – to a halt.

On Wednesday 5 October, Aslef members working for 13 train operators are stopping work for 24 hours. The operators affected are Avanti West Coast, Chiltern, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway; Greater Anglia, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains, LNER, London Overground, Northern, Southeastern, TransPennine Express and West Midlands Trains.

In further industrial action this month, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), which represents white-collar workers, says members across Network Rail and 11 train operating companies will take “strike action and action short of strike on Saturday 1 October,” with those at some individual firms also stopping work on 5, 6 and 8 October.

What is happening on Wednesday 5 October?

Train drivers working for 13 operators are on strike, but Network Rail signallers are working normally.

The operators affected are: Avanti West Coast, Chiltern, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway; Greater Anglia, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains, LNER, London Overground, Northern, Southeastern, TransPennine Express and West Midlands Trains.

The impact is variable – Avanti West Coast, East Midlands Railway, Northern, Southeastern and West Mldlands Trains say none of their trains will run.

But other strike-affected firms are likely to operate a limited timetable. For example, LNER is running a skeleton service of trains on the East Coast main line between London and Edinburgh via York and Newcastle.

Great Western Railway is running its usual hourly “strike shuttle” between London Paddington, Reading, Swindon, Bath and Bristol between 7.30am and 6.30pm, with shuttles also from Reading to Basingstoke and Oxford.

Many services will run normally, including Transport for Wales, ScotRail and the GTR franchise in southeast England, which includes Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern. Thameslink is telling passengers: “Although our drivers are not involved in this strike action, as London Overground, Southeastern and other neighbouring train companies will be affected, we expect our services to be impacted.”

There will be some effect on Thursday 6 October, “due to displacement of trains” says West Midlands Trains..

TSSA and Unite members working for a range of train operators are striking between 5 and 8 October.

The general secretary of the TSSA, Manuel Cortes, said: “It is time for train operators to meet us round the table and reach fair solutions.”

While TSSA and Unite members play important roles on the railway, mass cancellations are unlikely as a result of their action.

What is happening on Saturday 8 October?

The walk-out by 5,000 signallers means half the rail network is closed, with a much-reduced service on the remainder. Non-union members will enable a service to run between 7.30am and 6.30pm across about half the network.

In addition 14 train operators are affected by the RMT stoppage on 8 October.

Six are mainly longer-distance intercity companies, though with plenty of shorter connections (eg Coventry to Birmingham, Derby to Matlock and Durham to Newcastle):

  • Avanti West Coast
  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Railway
  • Great Western Railway
  • LNER
  • TransPennine Express

The remaining eight are largely commuter and shorter-distance operators, though they include operators with some longer journeys such as London to Norwich and to Birmingham:

  • c2c
  • Chiltern Railways
  • Greater Anglia
  • GTR (including Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express)
  • Northern
  • Southeastern
  • South Western Railway
  • West Midlands Trains

Train drivers are also walking out at six shorter-distance operators:

  • Chiltern Railways
  • Greater Anglia
  • London Overground
  • Northern
  • Southeastern
  • West Midlands Trains

What if I have a ticket?

The RDG says passengers booked to travel on 5 October can use their ticket up to and including 7 October, or claim a refund.

Will trains stop completely on 8 October?

No. During the next Saturday strike, 8 October, around 20 per cent of trains are expected to run, mainly on key intercity lines plus suburban lines around London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and southern Scotland.

Due to the knock-on effects of the strike, there will be some disruption on Sunday 9 October.

The Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, says: “With trains starting later and finishing much earlier than usual, passengers are asked to only travel by rail if absolutely necessary. Those who must travel should expect disruption, plan ahead and check when their last train will depart.”

Rail staff working for a number of firms including Grand Central, Lumo, Merseyrail, ScotRail and Transport for Wales are not striking, though all those operators will see serious disruption.

In addition, non-union staff will operate some trains for other operators, allowing a limited service for passengers on LNER and Great Western Railway, for example.

Any more bad news?

RMT members working for ScotRail plan to strike on Monday 10 October.

Engineering work will also affect some UK rail journeys around the same time.

Will Eurostar be affected by any of the national strikes?

Yes. International trains from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam run on High Speed 1, the link from St Pancras International to the Channel Tunnel, which will be affected by the walk-out of Network Rail signallers belonging to the RMT union.

On 8 October, trains will not run early in the morning or through the evening.

Why are RMT members striking?

“Continued attacks on pay and working conditions at a time when big business profits are at an all-time high,” says the union.

The RMT general secretary Mick Lynch says: “We want a settlement to these disputes where our members and their families can get a square deal. And we will not rest until we get a satisfactory outcome.”

What is the train drivers’ strike about?

Pay. Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, says: “The train companies have been determined to force our hand. They are telling train drivers to take a real terms pay cut.

“With inflation now running at 12.3 per cent– and set, it is said, to go higher – these companies are saying that drivers should be prepared to work just as hard, for just as long, but for considerably less.

“It is outrageous that they expect us to put up with a real terms pay cut for a third year in a row. And that’s why we are going on strike. To persuade the companies to be sensible, to do the right thing, and come and negotiate properly with us.

What do the employers say?

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “We want to give our employees a decent pay rise. It isn’t fair to ask taxpayers or passengers to fund this so we must fund it ourselves, which is achievable if the unions work with us to modernise and run the railway more efficiently.

“The decision by unions to strike again serves only to prolong disruption for passengers, undermine the railway’s recovery from the pandemic and ensure railway staff forgo even more of their pay unnecessarily.

Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at the RDG, said: “These strikes are unnecessary and damaging. They disrupt passengers’ plans, undermine struggling businesses, hit major events and harm the industry’s recovery.

“It is particularly disheartening that next weekend’s strike will hit the plans of thousands of runners who have trained for months to take part in the iconic London Marathon. That will also punish the many charities, large and small, who depend on sponsorship money raised by such events to support the most vulnerable in our community.”

Could there be more strikes?

Probably. Besides the issues of pay, redundancies and working conditions, the RMT union is concerned about what it says are plans to close ticket offices at stations.

In addition, the RMT has signalled further strikes by members working for Transport for London following a funding settlement with the government.

But Aslef and the RMT share with the new transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a strong political bond. They all campaigned enthusiastically and successfully together for Brexit.

Leaders of both unions have met Ms Trevelyan, with Mr Lynch of the RMT saying: “We welcome this more positive approach from the government to engage with us as a first step to finding a suitable settlement.”

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