Rail strike: Train boss ‘very happy for people to come and travel’ as reduced timetable goes to plan

·2-min read
Paddington lair: Mark Hopwood, managing director of train operator GWR, at London Paddington station – hub for the network (Simon Calder)
Paddington lair: Mark Hopwood, managing director of train operator GWR, at London Paddington station – hub for the network (Simon Calder)

As talks between rail employers and the RMT union resume, train operators are confident that their “strike day” timetables are robust – with the appeal to passengers not to travel softened for the next two days of industrial action.

Half the rail network in Great Britain will be closed again on Thursday 23 and Saturday 25 June as signallers working for Network Rail walk out again. They will be joined by RMT members working for 13 train operators.

But on many intercity and commuter lines, reduced services ran largely as planned on Tuesday, with over 80 per cent on time.

A special “Glastonbury express” from London to Somerset proved particularly popular.

The link from Paddington to Castle Cary in Somerset, the closest station to the festival site, is run by GWR. The first strike day also included regular trains to and from Oxford, Cardiff, Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth.

Mark Hopwood, managing director of GWR, told The Independent: “Where we are running trains, we are very happy for people to come and travel, but we really don’t want to have people stranded.

“Just check your times for your journey out – and your journey back.”

Trains are running from 7.30am to 6.30pm on strike days, with final services on longer routes departing in mid-afternoon. On Tuesday, all contingency staff working for Network Rail reported for work.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT, said the turnout on picket lines was “fantastic and exceeded expectations in our struggle for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise”.

Talks between the RMT, Network Rail and the train operators resume at 10am – with added impetus from the May inflation figure of 9.1 per cent, revealed on Wednesday morning.

The employers are offering 3 per cent in return for increased productivity, while the RMT, however, is holding out for 7 per cent and assurances on jobs.

Negotiations will focus on how modernisation and productivity gains could help finance a better offer.

The RMT’s senior assistant general secretary, Eddie Dempsey, said the employers had conducted themselves “with grace”.

Speaking to The Independent on Tuesday, he said: “I have to say people on the industry side of this dispute have been conducting themselves properly.”

But he claimed the transport secretary was calling the shots, saying: “Grant Shapps is holding the pen. So until he lets go of it, we can’t reach a settlement and the disputes will remain on.”

Thursday’s strike will have less impact in London because the Underground will be open; RMT members working for Transport for London took industrial action on the first day of the national rail stoppage.

But beyond the capital, no trains will run in Cornwall or Dorset, with a very limited service in Wales and Scotland.

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