Disruption warning as passengers return to work after the new year

Rail passengers will face new disruptions to travel from Tuesday as tens of thousands of workers take strike action in bitter disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) members at Network Rail and 14 train operators will stage two 48-hour strikes from Tuesday and Friday, while drivers from the Aslef union will go on strike on Thursday.

Picket lines will be refitted outside train stations across the country, repeating what became a familiar sight last year.

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

We advise you to only travel if absolutely necessary, reserve extra time and check when the first and last trains leave.

There may be disruption to services on Sunday as striking workers return to their duties.

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

Trains that run will start later and finish much earlier than usual – with services typically running between 7.30am and 6.30pm on the day of the strike.

Thursday’s train drivers’ strike will affect 15 operators and cause even fewer runs, with some companies running “very much reduced” timetables.

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

“We advise passengers to only travel when absolutely necessary during this period, allowing extra time and checking when their first and last trains leave. Passengers with tickets for the period from 3 to 7 January can use their ticket the day before the date of issuing the ticket or until Tuesday 10 January inclusive.

“This dispute will only be resolved by agreeing on the long-awaited labor reforms needed to put the industry on a sustainable footing, not by unions dooming their members to lose more pay in the new year.”

Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT, said “there is an unprecedented level of ministerial interference” that is preventing a resolution of the dispute.

He said: “The government is blocking attempts by the negotiating union to reach an agreement with rail employers.

“We have worked with the rail industry to achieve successful negotiated deals since privatization in 1993, and in 2021 and 2022 we have achieved network-wide deals in which the Department for Transport is not involved.

“However, there is an unprecedented level of ministerial interference in this dispute, making it difficult for rail employers to negotiate a package of measures with us so that we can settle this dispute.

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

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan told the PA news agency that the union was “in it for the long run”, adding: “We don’t want to go on strike, but the companies have pushed us into this place.

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

“That means they expect the train drivers at these companies to take a real pay cut – they’ll work just as hard for much less – when inflation peaks north of 14%.

“Railway companies say the government’s hands are tied. Whereas the government, which doesn’t employ us, says it’s up to the companies to negotiate with us.

“We are always willing to negotiate – we never refuse to sit down and talk, but these companies have offered us nothing, and that is unacceptable.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Passengers are rightly fed up with rail strikes and want the disruption to end.

“The government has shown that it is reasonable and ready to facilitate the resolution of rail disputes. It is time for trade unions to sit down to the table and play their part as well.

“Inflation-matching pay increases for all public sector employees would cost everyone more in the long run – adding to debt, fueling inflation and costing each household an extra £1,000.

“Unions should pull back from this strike action so we can start 2023 with an end to this damaging dispute.”

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