Train drivers strike will cripple UK services with third day in a row of disruption in London

Rail workers on the picket line at Grand Central Station in Birmingham, as members of the drivers’ union Aslef on strike in November (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)
Rail workers on the picket line at Grand Central Station in Birmingham, as members of the drivers’ union Aslef on strike in November (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

Rail services will be crippled for a third day on Thursday as train drivers strike amid a warning of escalating industrial action unless a pay dispute is resolved.

Members of Aslef in 15 train operators will walk out, leaving London and large parts of the country with no trains all day.

Rail links to the UK’s two busiest airports will be cut, with Gatwick Express and Heathrow Express shutting down.

Some London Underground lines are set to be affected, as they have been on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as the Overground and Elizabeth Line.

Transport for London (TfL) warned commuters to expect disruption on London Overground, the Elizabeth line, the Circle line and parts of the District and Bakerloo lines.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said 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.

The Aslef strike is a continuation of industrial action plaguing the capital this week.

The DVSA driving examiners’ strike started in London on Wednesday, 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.

Meanwhile 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.

Londoners warned of a third day of rail strikes (AP)
Londoners warned of a third day of rail strikes (AP)

Mr Whelan said 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.”

It is inevitable that more strikes will be held and probably escalate

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan

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.

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.

Around 20 per cent 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.

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

TUC leader Paul Nowak

“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.

There will be no services to Heathrow or Gatwick airports on Thursday (AP)
There will be no services to Heathrow or Gatwick airports on Thursday (AP)

“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.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for a “reasonable dialogue” with striking unions in a speech in east London on Wednesday.