railway lines

Severe disruption to rail services as drivers continue strike action

Image credit: Network Rail

Rail services will be severely disrupted all day on Saturday and early on Sunday morning because of a strike by train drivers in the latest outbreak of industrial unrest in the industry. Members of the drivers' union Aslef at seven train operators will walk out for 24 hours over pay.

The Rail Delivery Group said the industrial action has been timed to coincide with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the start of the new season for most English football league clubs. There will be disruption to parts of the rail network on Saturday and into the morning of Sunday.

The strike is hitting Arriva Rail London, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains.

Steve Montgomery, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We’re really disappointed that the Aslef leadership has decided to impose yet more uncertainty and disruption for passengers and businesses in a week which has already seen a strike by the RMT.

“Millions of passengers will have their weekend plans disrupted, particularly those who are working, or going to the Commonwealth Games or the first football match of the season.

“While we will do all that we can to minimise disruption, if you are going to travel on the routes affected, please plan ahead and check the latest travel advice. If you’re not able to travel, you can use your ticket either the day before or up to and including August 2, otherwise you will be able to change your ticket or claim a refund.

“Like any service or business, we must move with the times and cannot continue to ask taxpayers or passengers for more money when we should instead respond to the huge changes in travel behaviour post-Covid.

“By making these necessary reforms such as ending the reliance on volunteer working at weekends, we improve punctuality, have more resilient Sunday services and use those savings to give our people a pay rise which has always been what we want to do.

“Further strikes will see our people out of pocket and mean less money to fund a pay rise, so we urge the Aslef leadership to resume talks so we can reach a deal that is fair to staff and taxpayers, and which secures a bright, long-term future of our railway.”

Additional strikes are already planned for August by Aslef and the RMT in the deadlocked row over pay, jobs and conditions.

“Strikes are always the last resort,” said Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef. “We don’t want to inconvenience passengers - our friends and families use public transport, too - and we don’t want to lose money by going on strike, but we’ve been forced into this position by the companies, who say they have been driven to this by the Tory government.

“Many of our members, who were the men and women who moved key workers and goods around the country during the pandemic, have not had a pay rise since 2019. With inflation running at north of 10 per cent, that means those drivers have had a real-terms pay cut over the last three years.

“We want an increase in line with the cost of living, we want to be able to buy, in 2022, what we could buy in 2021. It’s not unreasonable to ask your employer to make sure you’re not worse off for three years in a row.

“Especially as the train companies are doing very nicely, thank you, out of Britain’s railways, with handsome profits, dividends for shareholders, and big salaries for managers, and train drivers don’t want to work longer for less.

“Wage rises aren’t fuelling inflation. Excess profiteering is, but the Government isn’t asking companies to cut profits or dividend payments to help manage inflation. Wages are chasing prices, not putting them up.

“We don’t see why we should forego an increase in salary to keep pace with inflation and help the privatised train companies make even bigger profits to send abroad.”

Montgomery issued an open invitation to Aslef’s leaders to meet with him to hold “meaningful talks” to resolve the dispute: “I am ready and willing to talk to the leadership of Aslef today, tomorrow or indeed any time next week. They should call off tomorrow’s action and talk to us instead. What our passengers and our staff expect is for us to talk and work out a way through this.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers will be frustrated that, again, their plans are being disrupted. It is crucial that talks continue to find a solution that avoids passengers being continually dragged into this industrial dispute.

“Information will be key throughout the disruption. Train companies should keep looking at the specific areas for improvement we identified from the June strikes about refunds, compensation and clear information. We will again monitor the impact on passengers and on those who cannot travel.”

In the capital, there will be no services on the London Overground network because of the strike on Arriva Rail London. There will also be no Night Overground services on Saturday evening and the early hours of Sunday.

Andy Lord, Transport for London’s chief operating officer, said: “Planned strike action on the national rail network on Saturday will mean disruption for our customers. With no service expected on the entire London Overground network, I advise all customers to check before they travel and use alternative routes to complete their journeys.”

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that the crippling rolling train strikes can only be resolved if the Government “stops pulling the strings” and allows rail companies to talk to trade unions. Speaking during a community visit to Redbridge, east London, Khan said that responsibility for the strikes lay firmly with the Conservative administration, which he claimed was hindering negotiations between rail companies and unions.

“The only reason the strikes are happening is because of mismanagement by the Government, by them interfering with rail companies who want to do a deal with the trade unions," he said. "The problems that we’re having around the country are not caused by Keir Starmer or the Labour Party, they’re caused by Grant Shapps, Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and the Conservative Government.

“The key thing is that the only way these disputes are ever resolved is if Grant Shapps and the Government stops pulling the strings and allows the rail companies to talk to the trade unions. No trade unionist I’ve ever met, no general secretary I’ve ever spoken to wants strikes, nobody wants strikes.”

Responding to Khan’s claims, a Department for Transport spokesperson said: “These comments are wide of the mark and a distraction from the fact unions need to get back round the table with industry to agree a deal that is fair for railway staff, passengers and taxpayers.”

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