Passengers are being told not to travel by train during national rail strikes next week, which are being called the biggest in 30 years.
Network Rail have issued the advice ahead of the strikes, which are being undertaken by 40,000 employees next Tuesday (June 21), June 23 and 25, over pay. It is said to be the biggest strike in 30 years and one which will cost the industry £150m.
The finishing touches are being made to a special railway timetable which will be in operation across England, Scotland and Wales to help mitigate the disruption causes as a result of the action.
The full timetable will be published tomorrow (Friday, June 17), but several operators including East Midlands Railway have already told passengers not to attempt to travel on strike days.
Only around half of Britain’s rail network will be open on strike days, with a very limited service running on lines that will only be open from around 7.30am until 6.30pm.
Thousands of specially trained and fully qualified back-up staff will step-in during the planned walk-outs to keep vital services running, but as they are a fraction of the usual workforce, only a severely limited service will be available.
Steve Montgomery, Chair of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “These strikes will affect the millions of people who use the train each day, including key workers, students with exams, those who cannot work from home, holidaymakers and those attending important business and leisure events.
“Working with Network Rail, our plan is to keep as many services running as possible, but significant disruption will be inevitable and some parts of the network will not have a service, so passengers should plan their journeys carefully and check their train times”.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said that the company has asked leadership to call off the “damaging” strikes but they had not progressed as far as he had hoped.
“We continue talks to reach a deal that is fair to staff and taxpayers, and which secures a bright, long-term future of our railways,” he added.
“Talks have not progressed as far as I had hoped and so we must prepare for a needless national rail strike and the damaging impact it will have. We, and our train operating colleagues, are gearing up to run the best service we can for passengers and freight users next week despite the actions of the RMT.
“Taxpayers have provided the equivalent of about £600 per household since covid and passenger numbers are still only at around 75 per cent of pre pandemic levels. We need to bring rail up to date so that we attract more people back and take no more than our fair share from the public purse.”
The situation was discussed on Wednesday in the House of Commons, with Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps calling the strikes “entirely pointless” and “counterproductive”. The industry needs to be modernised, he added.
Yesterday he told MPs: “Our railway needs a new direction. It has lost 20% of its passengers and 20% of its revenue too.
“We protected the railway with £16bn during the pandemic … not a single railway worker lost their jobs or were furloughed. This level of subsidy cannot continue forever.”
The former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded: “The rail companies were preserved and supported and did very well, as did many others in the private sector. Why is he now punishing those people that kept the railway system working, that do all the difficult jobs on the railway, with job losses, inadequate pay and a loss of morale?”
Grant Shapps said he paid tribute to those people – but highlighted that a train driver had a median salary of £59,000, and the median within the rail sector was £44,000. He added that rail workers had seen wages rise by 39% over the last 10 years compared with 7% for police.
In response, Haigh said that no one wanted strikes, but they were not inevitable. She said: “The bad news is that it require ministers to step up, to show leadership, and get employers and unions round the table.”
On the days that follow the strikes (June 22, 24 and 26) the whole network will reopen but passengers should also expect disruption on these days as the strike days chosen have been designed to inflict as much disruption as possible, with not enough time between the strike days to fully recover to a normal service.
The special timetable will also ensure key freight services can continue to move around the country, minimising disruption for consumers and businesses and allowing vital goods to continue to be shipped where needed.