Train passengers have been hit with another wave of 48 hour strikes in the run up to Christmas.
At the beginning of November, rail union leaders appeared willing to strike a deal. Calling off a walkout planned for the first week of the month, they announced “intensive talks” to break the deadlock in an industrial dispute that has prevented desperately overdue reforms to Britain’s railways.
It had been hoped that through negotiations, critical changes to working practices could be agreed upon. Changes that would save money and allow the wider rail industry to balance the books in the post-Covid world.
But on Tuesday, hopes of a truce were dashed.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) said its 40,000 members will walk out over eight days – the biggest strikes to date in the dispute – effectively crippling the rail network for the best part of a week before Christmas and another week in the New Year.
Taking into account scheduled engineering works between Christmas and New Year, some lines will be largely out of service for the best part of a month from the middle of December.
What dates are the train strikes?
- Saturday November 26 – 11 train operating companies affected by Aslef drivers union strike
- Tuesday December 13
- Wednesday December 14
- Friday December 16
- Saturday December 17
- Tuesday January 3
- Wednesday January 4
- Friday January 6
- Saturday January 7
On strike days, it is expected that just one in five trains will run.
On the days following a strike – so-called “shoulder days” – timetables will be roughly 60pc of normal.
There is also a new overtime and rest day working ban. The railways typically work on the assumption that staff will work overtime and on rest days. A union ban on this could cause further havoc. Train bosses are assessing the impact and will adjust timetables accordingly.
Which train operators are affected?
Nearly every train line will be impacted in some way.
The strikes are by RMT members at Network Rail and across 14 train operators.
The action against the operators is overshadowed by the walkouts at Network Rail – and in particular by signal workers.
Network Rail has reserves of trained signal workers, but only enough to allow 20pc of normal capacity to run.
Aslef strike, Nov 26
This is an operator-specific train. The lines impacted are:
- Avanti West Coast
- Chiltern Railways
- East Midlands Railway
- Great Western Railway
- Greater England
- London North Eastern Railway
- London Overground
- Northern Trains
- Transpennine Express
- West Midlands Trains
Can I get a refund if my train is cancelled?
Passengers with tickets can use their ticket either on the day before the date on the ticket or up to and including Tuesday, Nov 29.
Passengers with a season ticket that is monthly or longer or who have an activated days’ worth of travel on a flexible season ticket who choose not to travel on Nov 26, can claim compensation for these days through the delay repayment scheme. If you need to travel on Nov 26 and already have a ticket, check with the train company.
For the RMT strikes, rail chiefs are assessing what the policy will be and will make an announcement closer to the time. It is thought that the policy will be similar to that in place this Saturday for the Aslef industrial action.
Why are RMT and Aslef workers striking?
Both unions are demanding pay rises for their members who are battling soaring inflation.
For Aslef, this is the main issue under dispute. It is thought that train operators may not have to offer double-digit pay rises to strike a deal with the drivers union.
For RMT, the situation is more opaque. Network Rail has offered an 8pc rise, spread over two years. Train operators are yet to get around to discussing pay rises, first, they want to come to an agreement on sweeping reforms to working practices.
Changes to what have been branded “archaic” working practices are the most contentious issue in the dispute.
Traveling habits have changed following the pandemic. Fewer people commute to work every day. More people are traveling on off-peak trains, after the morning rush hour or on weekends. Demand for business travel is stubbornly much lower than it was before Covid hit.
This means Network Rail and the train operators, whose costs are ultimately borne by taxpayers, must cut costs to balance the books. Part of this can be done by reducing staff numbers. But a large part of it is changing working practices, many of which are a legacy of the days of British Rail and public ownership.
Bosses what to introduce more technology, run teams more efficiently, and end parts of the railway operating in their own silos.
Unions fear this means job cuts are on the cards – and by extension, their power will be weakened.