Members of the train drivers’ union, Aslef, will walk out at 11 train operators on Saturday 26 November. The strike will trigger widespread cancellations – affecting Rugby fans heading for the last of the autumn internationals in Cardiff and Twickenham, and potentially millions more prospective travellers.
It will be the fifth national strike by train drivers, in a year that has also seen eight days of national strikes by the RMT union.
Rail passengers in Britain are enduring the longest and most damaging series of strikes since the 1980s.
Industrial action by rail workers has been taking place since June.
Members of the RMT union working for Network Rail and 14 train operators called a strike for three days in early November. Even though the walk-outs were called off a few hours before they were due to begin, thousands of trains were cancelled over a spell of a week.
The RMT has conducted a ballot for a fresh mandate for future rail stoppages. On a turn-out of 70 per cent, 92 per cent of members voted for more strikes.
Regionally, a range of industrial action from overtime bans to local walk-outs will cause further disruption.
What are the strikes about?
There are multiple disputes involving many employers:
- Network Rail – the infrastructure provider, running the tracks, signalling and some large stations
- More than a dozen train operators, who are contracted by the Department for Transport (DfT) to run a specified schedule of services.
Four unions are involved:
- RMT, the main rail union
- Aslef, representing train drivers
- Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), the union for white-collar staff in the transport industry
- Unite, representing some grades in some train operators
But key elements are common to all the disputes:
- Pay, which the unions say should take into account the current high inflation
- Jobs, and in particular the prospect of compulsory redundancies
- Working conditions – with the unions determined to extract a premium from any productivity improvements
When is the next national strike?
On Saturday 26 November train drivers belonging to Aslef will walk out at 11 rail firms as part of a dispute over pay.
Six of them are primarily intercity operators:
- Avanti West Coast
- East Midlands Railway
- Great Western Railway
- TransPennine Express
The remaining five are mainly regional operators:
- Greater Anglia
- West Midlands Trains
Will any trains run?
Yes – many, because several key operators are not involved. The rail firm that runs more trains than any other, GTR, should not see disruption; it includes Great Northern, Southern and Thameslink.
South Western Railway, the operator from the UK’s busiest station, London Waterloo, will run normally.
ScotRail and Transport for Wales are unaffected.
Trains that duplicate links on strike-hit operators are likely to be busier than normal. They include Transport for Wales trains on the Swansea-Cardiff-Newport corridor and between Crewe and Manchester.
Will the strike-hit operators run any trains?
Some will. Great Western Railway will run an hourly service between London Paddington and Bristol during the main part of the day, but trains will not call at Bath – location for a popular Christmas market.
LNER will run a service every two hours between London King's Cross and Edinburgh, and a single journey each way between London and Leeds.
TransPennine Express will run four trains each way between York and Manchester Piccadilly; three each way between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool Lime Street; and two each way between Sheffield and Cleethorpes.
Other operators are likely to cancel all trains. Avanti West Coast and East Midlands Railway says no services will run on Saturday.
Southeastern, serving Kent, East Sussex and southeast London from the capital, says: “There will be no Southeastern services running on this date. Please do not attempt to travel by train on this day.”
What do the two sides say?
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, insists: “We don’t want to be taking this action.
“But while the industry continues to make no offer – due to the dodgy deal they signed with the DfT [Department for Transport] – we have no choice but to take strike action again.
“With inflation now well into double figures, train drivers who kept Britain moving through the pandemic are now being expected to work just as hard this year as last year but for less.
“Most of these drivers have not had an increase in salary since 2019.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “It’s disappointing Aslef has yet again chosen self-defeating strike action when our railway is in urgent need of reform.
“This is a frustrating backwards step. More disruption is not only damaging to the public and Aslef’s own member’s livelihoods but threatens the future of the railway itself.”
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, said: “We regret Aslef’s decision, which will cause real disruption to passengers and hit its members’ pay packets.
“Instead of staging more counterproductive strike action which increases the very real financial challenge the industry is facing, we ask them to work with us to secure both a pay deal and the changes needed it for it to thrive in the long-term and improve reliability across the network.”
What other disruption is planned?
Aslef has withdrawn all non-contractual overtime at LNER on the East Coast main line from Sunday 27 November. The union’s general secretary accuses the state-run firm of showing “a complete disregard for the agreements which shape our members’ working lives”.
But Warrick Dent, LNER’s safety and operations director, says: “We are confident that our contingency plans will keep disruption to LNER services to a minimum.”
In addition, morale across the rail industry is low, with several train operators reporting higher-than-normal levels of staff sickness.
Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express are both operating significantly reduced schedules until 10 December.
What’s happening in Scotland?
A long and bitter dispute between ScotRail staff and management may be over. An overtime ban and planned strikes in December are currently suspended while RMT members vote on a new offer.
It comprises a 5 per cent increase in basic pay and other measures that will lift the average pay rise to around 8 per cent.
I have a ticket booked for a strike day. What are my options?
Passengers with advance, off-peak or anytime tickets affected by the strikes can generally use their ticket for travel on days either side of the strike days.
Alternatively they can seek a refund.
But be cautious about spending on events or hotels that will require you to travel by train. While you will get your money back on rail tickets when trains are cancelled, “consequential losses” will not be covered. So non-refundable spending will be lost if you can’t make the journey.
Are future strikes likely – and when will we hear about them?
The main union says: “The average RMT union rail worker earns £31k. Our rail workers haven’t seen a pay rise in three years.
“The union will continue its industrial campaign until we reach a negotiated settlement on job security, pay and working condition.”
Unions must give 14 days notice of a strike, and usually announce them close to this deadline. When a sequence of strikes is called, as on 5-7-9 November, they are announced in one go.
Why isn’t there a continuous strike of the kind we have seen in the past?
Rail unions can impact almost a complete week by stopping work for three days – causing maximum disruption for minimum loss of wages.
Are any parts of the UK unaffected by these rail strikes?
Yes, so far railways in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Wight have avoided all industrial action.
Where will this all end?
It could take months. Rail staff tell me they feel undervalued and that stopping work is the only way to achieve a fair settlement.
But ticket revenue for the railway has slumped since Covid, and the employers say they have to balance the books – with pay rises contingent on modernising and cutting costs.
Meanwhile passengers are caught in the middle of an apparently intractable dispute, facing another day of wrecked travel plans, while the taxpayer picks up the bill for the financial damage the strike will cause.
At a time when the railway desperately needs to attract new passengers, confidence in train travel is at an all-time low.