Rail services will be crippled on Thursday because of a strike by train drivers amid a warning of escalating industrial action unless a pay dispute is resolved.
Members of Aslef in 15 train operators will walk out, leaving large parts of the country with no trains all day.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan told the PA news agency it was “inevitable” that further strikes will be held unless there is a breakthrough to the long running row.
He warned that strikes could escalate, saying train drivers wanted to go “harder and faster” after years of not receiving a pay rise.
His comments came as train passengers suffered more disruption on Wednesday because of the second day of a 48 hour stoppage by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) in a separate dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Another RMT 48 hour strike will start on Friday, ending a week of travel chaos on the railways,
On Wednesday, around half of Britain’s railway lines were closed and only a fifth of services ran as tens of thousands of RMT members at Network Rail and 14 train operators walked out.
Mr Whelan told PA he felt rail employers and the Government were “playing games” rather than making any serious attempt to resolve the pay dispute.
“The situation is getting worse and my members now want to go harder and faster because of the lack of progress.
“We are in a weird world where the Government will do anything to keep private companies in the industry.
“It is inevitable that more strikes will be held and probably escalate.
“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.”
Among the operators which will run no trains all day on Thursday are Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Northern, Southern, Southeastern, Thameslink and TransPennine Express.
Rail links to the UK’s two busiest airports will be cut, with Gatwick Express and Heathrow Express shutting down.
Areas where trains will run on Thursday include: Wales; the Central Belt, Fife and the Borders of Scotland; and parts of the South Western Railway network.
Services will also operate on London Overground and the Elizabeth line.
Around 20% of normal services will run, according to the Rail Delivery Group.
Companies affected by the strike are Avanti West Coast; Chiltern Railways; CrossCountry; East Midlands Railway; Great Western Railway; Greater Anglia; GTR Great Northern Thameslink; London North Eastern Railway; Northern Trains; Southeastern; Southern/Gatwick Express; South Western Railway (depot drivers only); SWR Island Line; TransPennine Express; and West Midlands Trains.
New TUC leader Paul Nowak has written to the Prime Minister calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the wave of industrial disputes across the country including on the railways, NHS and civil service.
He called for a change in government direction, saying ministers should open pay negotiations with unions.
In the letter to Rishi Sunak, Mr Nowak said public services were in crisis after years of “underfunding and understaffing”.
He wrote: “We can’t solve these problems without a fair deal for the people on the frontline.
“Every month experienced employees are quitting, with one in three public service staff now taking steps to leave their professions or actively considering it.
“This is simply unsustainable.
“But we cannot fix the staffing crisis in our schools, hospitals and elsewhere if we do not fix the underlying causes.
“That means talking in an open and constructive way about improving public sector pay. But so far your ministers have refused to negotiate directly about pay with unions.”
Mr Nowak said unions worked closely with Mr Sunak during the pandemic to deliver the furlough scheme and protect millions of jobs, adding: “That’s the kind of mature approach we need now.
“Unions have already made clear their willingness to sit down with the Government and talk about boosting pay. But while your ministers continue to refuse point blank to discuss improving wages, there can be no resolution.
“In the NHS, for example, appropriate structures already exist to allow the immediate start of pay negotiations involving health unions, employers and ministers. This was exactly what happened in 2018, leading to the three-year wage deal.
“We want to find a resolution to the current disputes so our public service staff can get on with doing the jobs they love. And so our public services can start to improve for everyone who relies on them.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has warned that industrial action will need to continue beyond May unless a reasonable offer to resolve the row over pay, jobs and conditions is made to the union.
On Wednesday, the DVSA driving examiners’ strike started in London, the South East, South Wales and the South West, while traffic officer service workers at National Highways and Rural Payments Agency staff continued their walkouts.
London bus workers at Abellio began a two-day strike – the first in a series of action planned by the group throughout January.