Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Simon Calder

Will there be more rail strikes before Christmas?

Simon Calder

Rail passengers in Britain are enduring the longest and most damaging series of strikes since the 1980s.

The main rail union, the RMT, has just announced a run of December and January strikes that are aimed at causing maximum disruption to travellers before Christmas and immediately after the New Year.

Members working for Network Rail and 14 train operators will walk out on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December; and 3, 4, 6 and 7 January.

In between those dates, from 18 December until 2 January, an overtime ban will be in effect.

The strikes will pick up from other stoppages to create a six-week stretch in which millions of journey plans will be wrecked across Great Britain, starting on Saturday 26 November

These are the key questions and answers.

When do the next strikes begin?

On Saturday 26 November, members of the train drivers’ union, Aslef, will walk out at 11 train operators. It will be the fifth national strike by drivers in a dispute over pay.

The affected rail firms are described by the unions as “DfT train operating companies” – the private and public enterprises contracted by the Department for Transport (DfT) to operate specific services. Six of the train operators are primarily intercity:

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

The remaining five are mainly regional operators:

  • Chiltern
  • Greater Anglia
  • Northern
  • Southeastern
  • West Midlands Trains

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.

But several key operators are not involved, including GTR (which runs Great Northern, Southern and Thameslink), South Western Railway, ScotRail and Transport for Wales. They should run normally, though trains that duplicate links on strike-hit operators are likely to be busier than usual.

For example, Transport for Wales trains run on the Swansea-Cardiff-Newport corridor, and between Crewe and Manchester will feel extra pressure without GWR and Avanti West Coast services on these routes respectively.

Some of the strike-hit operators will still run trains. 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 – the location of 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 Southeastern have confirmed no trains will run and urge passengers to avoid trying to travel by train.

Will there be further December train strikes?

The main rail union, the RMT, announced a run of December and January strikes on Tuesday that are aimed at causing maximum disruption to travellers before Christmas and immediately after the New Year.

More than 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, working across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies, will take industrial action for four weeks in December and January. Strikes will take place on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December, whereupon an overtime ban will take effect until 2 January. Strikes resume on 3, 4, 6 and 7 January.

The effects of the strikes is now well established. The walk outs by around 5,000 Network Rail signallers will mean half the rail network is closed, with a much-reduced service on the remainder.

Non-union members and managers will enable a service to run between 7.30am and 6.30pm across about half the Great British rail network.

Around 20 per cent of trains are expected to run, mainly on key intercity lines linking London with Brighton, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Edinburgh, plus suburban lines around London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and southern Scotland.

There will also be widespread disruption on the morning after each strike day.

The effects of the overtime ban on train services are not yet clear – though it will undoubtedly damage Network Rail plans for engineering work over the usual Christmas closure.

Is any other disruption planned?

Yes. On Friday 25 November, some London Underground customer services staff will strike at key stations on the network.

Transport for London says Tube trains will run as planned and the vast majority of stations will remain open. But Heathrow’s three train Underground stations, Euston, King’s Cross St. Pancras and Victoria “may open later and close earlier or at short notice due to strike action”.

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 the train firm says: “We are confident that our contingency plans will keep disruption to LNER services to a minimum.”

The RMT has called a strike at Avanti West Coast on 11 and 12 December. The train firm, which connects London with the West Midlands, northwest England and southern Scotland, says: “On these dates, customers should expect our timetable and operating hours to be reduced significantly, and note that services that do run are expected to be busy.

“We will announce revised timetables as soon as possible.”

The white-collar union, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), is balloting members working for ScotRail in a dispute about on-call arrangements.

What are the strikes about?

The TSSA sums up the tangle of disputes as follows: “We are in dispute with Network Rail and all DfT train operating companies over pay, job security and terms and conditions.”

The RMT union says its average member earns £31,000 annually, “with many on much less, and none have seen an increase in three years”. The RMT also says the dispute is about “preventing catastrophic cuts that will directly impact maintenance and accessibility”.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union, Aslef, said: “It’s clearer than ever that the DfT is preventing its contracted companies from taking part in free negotiation, and preventing them from making a fair pay offer to our members.”

But the train firms say rail revenue is 20 per cent down on 2019 levels, with taxpayers making up the difference. The RDG says strikes since June have taken at least £250m out of the industry and have “brought the industry’s post-pandemic recovery to a shuddering halt”. The sum lost to the railway represents around £5,000 for every employee.

The rail minister, Huw Merriman, says: “Our railway needs to change so we can grow passenger numbers and invest in services. I want to encourage industry and unions to work together and come to an agreement which is fair for passengers, taxpayers and workers. Further strikes will put the future of our railways at risk.”

Where will this all end?

It could take many more months.

At a time when the railway desperately needs to attract new passengers, confidence in train travel is at an all-time low.

Negotiations have broken down. Rail staff tell me they feel undervalued and that stopping work is the only way to achieve a fair settlement.

Meanwhile, passengers are caught in the middle of apparently intractable disputes, facing another day of wrecked travel plans, while the taxpayer picks up the bill for the financial damage caused by the strikes.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.