Rail strikes: passengers face disruption as Britain’s biggest walkout in decades begins

<span>Photograph: Matthew Chattle/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Matthew Chattle/REX/Shutterstock

Train passengers were facing widespread disruption and cancellations as Britain’s biggest nationwide rail strike for 30 years began on Tuesday morning.

Workers responsible for train lines and infrastructure across the UK walked out on Tuesday – with further action on Thursday and Saturday – leaving thousands of services cancelled and passengers forced to seek alternative means of transport.

Only about 4,500 of the usual 20,000 daily services were expected to run due to the walkout by 40,000 RMT union members at Network Rail – the organisation that maintains the system – and 13 train operators.

Those train companies where workers are not going on strike will still suffer from disruption due to Network Rail signallers walking out.

Related: ‘Britain runs into the buffers’: what the papers say about the rail strikes

Much of Britain will have no passenger trains for the entire day, including most of Scotland and Wales, the whole of Cornwall and Dorset, and places such as Chester, Hull, Lincoln and Worcester.

Services will primarily be restricted to main lines, but even those will only be open between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

Disruption was expected to rumble through the non-strike days of Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, complicating journeys for commuters, schoolchildren and holidaymakers.

London Underground workers will also strike for 24 hours on Tuesday, bringing the capital’s transport system to a halt.

Last-ditch talks on Monday failed to resolve the bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions, with all sides blaming each other for the lack of progress.

The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said the rail dispute could not be resolved without the government “removing the shackles” on Network Rail and train operating companies. All parts of the rail industry, as well as Transport for London, have been told to find savings with fare revenue falling away since Covid.

He told BBC’s Newsnight on Monday that Network Rail had offered a 2% pay rise with the possibility of a further 1% later dependent on efficiency savings.

But Network Rail had “escalated” the dispute during Monday’s talks, saying: “They have issued me a letter saying that there are going to be redundancies starting from July 1.

“So rather than trying to come to an agreement in this dispute, they’ve escalated it by giving us formal notice of redundancy amongst our Network Rail members.”

He warned the dispute could continue for months, adding: “It is clear that the Tory government, after slashing £4bn of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.

“The rail companies have now proposed pay rates that are massively under the relevant rates of inflation, coming on top of the pay freezes of the past few years.

“At the behest of the Government, companies are also seeking to implement thousands of job cuts and have failed to give any guarantee against compulsory redundancies.”

The Department for Transport disputed Mr Lynch’s clams, adding that it has cost taxpayers about 600 per household to keep the railway running during the coronavirus pandemic.

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said talks remained a matter for the employers. He said the strikes were being “orchestrated by some of the best-paid union barons, representing some of the better-paid workers in this country, which will cause misery and chaos to millions of commuters”.

The RMT said that a pay offer was made by train operating companies in last-ditch talks on Monday, believed to be about 2-3%, with strings attached and no guarantees against compulsory redundancies. The union rejected the offer and a similar proposal from Network Rail on Friday.

Motorists are warned to expect a surge in traffic as train passengers switch to road transport. The AA predicted that the worst affected roads are likely to be main motorway arteries, as well as rural and suburban areas.

About half of Great Western Railway’s trains due to serve Castle Cary in Somerset, carrying revellers to the Glastonbury Festival between Wednesday and Friday, have been cancelled.

The rail operator will run two trains per hour on the Edinburgh to Glasgow via Falkirk High line, the Edinburgh-Bathgate line, the Glasgow to Hamilton/Larkhall line and the Glasgow to Lanark line.

One train an hour will run on the Edinburgh to Glasgow via Shotts service.
Services on the five lines will only operate between 7.30am and 6.30pm on the dates affected.

Boris Johnson was expected to say ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that unions were “harming the very people they claim to be helping”.

He is set to accuse unions of “driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of rail workers”, while also hitting businesses across the country.