Biggest rail strike in decades halts most trains in Britain

@GwynTophamSat 1 Oct 2022 –

Passengers at Waterloo station in London watch the departure board ahead of planned strikes.
Passengers at Waterloo station in London watch the departure board ahead of planned strikes. Photograph: James Manning/PA

Workers are taking part in the biggest rail strike in Britain for decades, with unions combining industrial action for the first time this year.

No trains are running in many areas, with no direct services at all on some intercity routes between London to Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.

With drivers as well as signallers on strike, only about 11% of normal schedules are in operation. Disruption is significantly worse than during other rail strikes this year, as members of the RMT, Aslef and TSSA unions are on a 24-hour strike – timed to coincide with the start of the Conservative conference in Birmingham.

Strikes planned for last month were called off because of the mourning period after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Avanti West Coast is not running any trains, and there are no services between England and Wales.

Workers stand at a closed platform at Kings Cross station, London

Network Rail has advised passengers who still wish to travel on Saturday to only do so if absolutely necessary, to expect disruption, and to check National Rail Enquiries or train operator websites for updates, especially for times of the last train to depart. Services will also be disrupted on Sunday morning, with a later start, as staff return to work.

Further strikes are also planned for Wednesday 5 October by drivers in Aslef, and Saturday 8 October by the RMT union.

Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, said more strikes were likely to follow. While union leaders held talks with train operators in recent days, as well as having meetings with the new transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, last month, Whelan said they were no nearer a resolution.

Drivers’ demands to lift a pay freeze had only increased, he said: “The government are making it more and more difficult. They are telling firms we can’t have a pay rise, and lifting the cap on bankers bonuses to four times their salary.

“Food and energy prices are going through the roof, mortgage rates and rent – while we’ve seen the top 350 FTSE firms increase their profits by 73%. Inflation isn’t being driven by workers’ pay, it’s profiteering.”

Daniel Mann, the director of industry operations at the Rail Delivery Group, said the strikes were “unnecessary and damaging”. He added: “They disrupt passengers’ plans, undermine struggling businesses, hit major events and harm the industry’s recovery.”

Speaking outside Euston station on Saturday, the RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, apologised to the public facing transport difficulties because of the strikes, including participants of the London Marathon.

He said the union did not want to inconvenience people but said it was the government that had brought the dispute on.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We don’t want to inconvenience the public and we’re really sorry that that’s happening. But the government has brought this dispute on. They [put] the challenges down to us, to cut our jobs, to cut our pensions and to cut our wages against inflation.”

He said he had spoken with Trevelyan, who seemed “very pleasant”, but added what was needed was a change of attitude at the negotiating table.

He added: “Grant Shapps was not allowing a compromise, so I hope there’s a change of mood and a change of stance.”

According to polling by Ipsos Mori, more people across the UK now support than oppose the rail strikes, with 43% backing the unions and 31% against. A slight majority, 52%, say they have sympathy with the rail unions, with 40% saying they have little or none – while most say they do not have sympathy with Network Rail or train operators (52%) or the government (64%).