Disruption alert as passengers return to work after the new year

Rail passengers will face new travel cuts from Tuesday as tens of thousands of workers strike over fierce disagreements over wages, jobs and conditions.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 14 train operators staged two 48-hour walkouts on Tuesday and Friday, while drivers at the Aslef union will go on strike Thursday.

Lookout lines will again be set up outside train stations across the country, repeating the scene that became familiar last year.

Passengers, including those returning to work after the Eid holiday, are warned to expect “significant disruption” as only a limited number of trains will run.

Advice, travel only if absolutely necessary, allow extra time and check when the first and last trains leave.

While the workers who went on strike on Sunday return to their jobs, there may be disruption in services.

On RMT strike days, about half of the network will be down and only about 20% of normal services will be running.

Running trains will start later than usual and end much earlier – services usually run between 7:30am and 6:30pm on strike day.

The train drivers’ strike Thursday will affect 15 operators and cause even fewer services to operate, with some companies operating at “significantly reduced” tariffs.

Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at Rail Delivery Group, said: “No one wants to see these strikes continue, and we simply apologize to the passengers and many businesses that will be impacted by this unnecessary and damaging disruption.

“We advise our passengers to travel only if absolutely necessary during this time, allow additional time and check when their first and last trains leave. Passengers with tickets between 3-7 January can use their tickets one day before the ticket date or until Tuesday, 10 January.

“This disagreement can be resolved by accepting long-overdue reforms in labor arrangements needed to put the industry on a sustainable footing, rather than unions condemning their members to lose more wages in the new year.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said there was an “unprecedented level of ministerial interference” that prevented resolution of the dispute.

He said: “The government is blocking the union’s attempts to reach a negotiated agreement with the railway employers.

“Since privatization in 1993, we have worked with the rail industry to reach successful negotiated agreements, and in 2021 and 2022 we have network-wide agreements not involving the Ministry of Transport.

“Still, there is an unprecedented level of ministerial involvement in this dispute that has prevented railway employers from being able to negotiate a package of measures with us so that we can resolve this dispute.

“We will continue our industrial action campaign as we work towards a negotiated solution.”

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan told the PA news agency that the union is “long-term” and added: “We don’t want to go on strike, but the companies have pushed us to this place.

“They haven’t offered a penny to our members, and these are people who haven’t been given a raise since April 2019.

“This means that with inflation hovering north of 14%, train drivers at these companies expect a real-time pay cut – working just as hard for significantly less.

“Train companies say their hands are tied by the Government. The Government, which does not employ us, says it is up to the companies to negotiate with us.

“We are always happy to negotiate – we never refuse to sit down and talk, but these companies have not offered us anything and that is unacceptable.”

A Transport Department spokesperson said: “Passengers have rightly had enough rail strikes and are calling for the disruption to end.

“The government has demonstrated reasonableness and is ready to facilitate the resolution of railway disputes. It’s time for unions to come to the table and do their bit.

“Inflationary wage increases for all public sector workers will cost everyone more in the long run – worsening debt, increasing inflation and costing each household an extra £1,000.

“Unions must step back from this strike action so we can start 2023 by ending this damaging conflict.”

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