Rail strikes: London commuters brand walkouts crippling network as ‘Nightmare after Christmas’

Commuters at Euston station on Tuesday morning (Jeremy Selwyn)
Commuters at Euston station on Tuesday morning (Jeremy Selwyn)

Frustrated commuters returning to work after the festive break spoke on Tuesday of their “nightmare after Christmas” as train strikes crippled the rail network.

The latest RMT walkout left travellers staring at mainly blank screens at mainline London stations.

Around 40,000 RMT members are holding two 48-hour strikes from Tuesday and Friday over pay and conditions. Drivers who belong to the Aslef union will walk out on Thursday.

At Euston RMT leader Mick Lynch appeared on the picket line as inside the station commuters milled around and desperately tapped their smartphones searching for alternative routes to work.

Kelly Sandford, a 26-year-old retail buyer, needed to get to Shrewsbury only to find there were no trains. She said: “What a first day back, it's like the nightmare after Christmas.

“We've just had enough, the way they have targeted Christmas and January is so selfish. You would think as a good will gesture they would put it on hold. To start the new working year like this is a massive downer. My sympathy for the strike is waning."

Isabella, 8, at Euston Station on Tuesday morning (Jeremy Selwyn)
Isabella, 8, at Euston Station on Tuesday morning (Jeremy Selwyn)

William Tulley, 58, was trying to get to Northampton after visiting relatives in London.

He said: “I'm not anti-strike but the country cannot continue like this. Covid set us back economically and socially in some ways and this industrial action is stopping our recovery. It's certainly a bleak start to the New Year."

Monica and Mark Sheppard had been in London with their daughter after travelling down from Hull. They had booked to go to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Experience in Watford and were desperately trying to get a train.

Mr Sheppard said: “We are still hoping to get there, Isabella has been looking forward to it but the strike has made it a stressful journey. We don't want to let her down."

Approximately one in five trains were expected to be running on Tuesday as RMT members picketed stations and gave out leaflets to the public promoting their cause.

Around 40,000 RMT members are holding two 48-hour strikes from Tuesday and Friday over pay and conditions (Jeremy Selwyn)
Around 40,000 RMT members are holding two 48-hour strikes from Tuesday and Friday over pay and conditions (Jeremy Selwyn)

Trains that were running were crowded as commuters battled to get to work.

Lydia Sweeney, 21, a hairdresser said: “It's all very well the train strikers stopping work over pay but I don't earn a lot and they are either stopping me getting to work or making me late every day. There's a cost of living crisis for all of us not just them. It's totally selfish."

Aisha Bhati, a 26-year-old student, said: “I need to get to college. I'm training to work in the NHS so I can do something worthwhile and these strikes are making life more difficult. I'm in favour of the nurses' strike but I think the rail workers striking over Christmas and New Year has not helped their cause."

RMT leader Mick Lynch told the Standard on a picket line at Euston: “The government will not negotiate. There is a deal to be done and we all want a change in the weather. The rail companies are still making plenty of dosh. We think the travelling public is still on our side."

Mick Lynch at Euston Station picket line on Tuesday (Jeremy Selwyn)
Mick Lynch at Euston Station picket line on Tuesday (Jeremy Selwyn)

The strike has hit all central London major rail stations with Euston and King's Cross seeing only a fraction of the usual number of commuters with many who are able opting to work from home.

The official advice is to only travel if absolutely necessary, allow extra time and check when first and last trains will depart. On RMT strike days, around half of the network will shut down, with only about 20% of normal services running.

Trains that do run will start later and finish much earlier than usual - with services typically running between 7.30am and 6.30pmon the day of the strike. The train drivers' strike on Thursday will affect 15 operators and will result in even fewer services running, with some companies operating "very significantly reduced" timetables.

Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “No-one wants to see these strikes go ahead, and we can only apologise to passengers and to the many businesses who will be hit by this unnecessary and damaging disruption.

“We would advise passengers to only travel if it is absolutely necessary during this period, allow extra time and check when their first and last train will depart. Passengers with tickets forbetween 3-7 Januarycan use their ticket the day before the ticket date, or up to and includingTuesday 10 January.

“This dispute will only be resolved by agreeing the long overdue reforms to working arrangements needed to put the industry on a sustainable footing, rather than unions condemning their members to losing more pay in the new year."

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said that the union is “in it for the long haul", adding: “We don't want to go on strike but the companies have pushed us into this place.

“They have not offered our members a penny, and these are people who have not had an increase since April 2019.

“That means they expect train drivers at these companies to take a real-terms pay cut - to work just as hard for considerably less - when inflation is running at north of 14%.

“The train companies say their hands have been tied by the Government. While the Government, which does not employ us, says it's up to the companies to negotiate with us.

“We are always happy to negotiate - we never refuse to sit down at the table and talk, but these companies have offered us nothing, and that is unacceptable." A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Passengers have rightly had enough of rail strikes and want the disruption to end.

“The Government has demonstrated it is being reasonable and stands ready to facilitate a resolution to rail disputes. It's time the unions came to the table and played their part as well.

“Inflation-matching pay increases for all public sector workers would cost everyone more in the long term - worsening debt, fuelling inflation, and costing every household an extra £1,000.

“Unions should step back from this strike action so we can start 2023 by ending this damaging dispute."