Ten weeks ago, Mark Harper was appointed secretary of transportation. He said his top priority is to end long and bitter rail disagreements over wages, job security and working arrangements between Network Rail, train operators and unions.
Yet today, another round of layoffs has begun in the rail industry, in the biggest national strike since the 1980s, leaving the UK with only a skeletal service for the first working week of the new year.
More than 40,000 members of the RMT union, employed by Network Rail and 14 train operators, are off work for 48 hours on January 3 and 4, and again on January 6 and 7.
For Network Rail staff, this would mean a 20-day strike of more than 200 days since mid-summer 2022.
On Thursday, January 5th, thousands of machinists working for 15 train operators affiliated with the Aslef union will go on strike.
The White-collar Transport Salary Staff Association (TSSA) will take local industrial action.
Unions say they want a fair wage increase, job protection security and no change in working conditions without negotiation.
Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train operators, said: “On RMT strike days, about half of the network will be shut down and only about 20 percent of normal services will operate.
“Thousands of specially trained and fully qualified reservists will be deployed during the RMT marches on January 3-4 and 6-7 to keep vital services operational for those in need.”
Major intercity connections and commuter lines will have limited service between 7.30am and 6.30pm.
Eight trains will run from both Edinburgh and Leeds to London on the East Coast main line, while passengers from London to Gatwick airport and Brighton will be able to choose between four services per hour.
However, most networks in Wales and Scotland will be shut down completely. Major cities like Aberdeen, Lincoln, Portsmouth and Stoke-on-Trent will not see trains all week.
With the resumption of services on Sunday, January 8, serious disruptions are expected.
The intervening strike of Aslef’s train drivers will cause even fewer services to operate and some key operators will not operate trains at all – though passengers in Wales will actually receive better service that day.
At the end of the final pauses, RMT members working for Network Rail will be on strike for 20 days out of 200.
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.
“This conflict can only be resolved by accepting the long overdue reforms to working arrangements needed to put the industry on a sustainable footing.”
The RMT union, however, said it was making “its best effort over Christmas time” to keep talks, accusing the ministers of “blocking” a deal.
Secretary General Mick Lynch said: “Since privatization in 1993, we have worked with the rail industry to reach successful negotiated deals.
“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.”
Nigel Harris, managing editor Railway “The government is playing with fire with the future of the rail industry,” said magazine and a railroad senior.
Harper, who became the UK’s third transport secretary in seven weeks last year, said: GB News“The government will continue to work really hard to bring the two sides together to resolve this issue.
“I know how frustrating this is for commuters, and the danger is that it keeps people from using the railroads, which is somewhat self-destructive for rail unions who haven’t resolved this dispute.”
Passengers with advance tickets between 3-7 January can use their tickets one day before the specified date or until (inclusive) Tuesday 10 January.