Rail passengers are suffering fresh travel chaos on Wednesday after thousands of workers walked out on strike, crippling services across the country.
Disputes in the bitter row over jobs, pay, pensions and conditions are worsening, with more strikes due in the coming days, and a wave of industrial action planned next month on the railways and London Underground.
Only around one in five trains are running on Wednesday, on around half the network, with some areas having no trains all day.
Picket lines were mounted outside railway stations as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 14 train operators went on strike.
Passengers were urged to only travel by train if they must, and, if it is necessary, to allow extra time and check when their last train will depart.
Trains will also be disrupted on Thursday morning with a later start to services as employees return to duties.
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) has also announced a strike by its members at Avanti West Coast on Wednesday, while members of the drivers’ union Aslef at seven companies will strike on Saturday.
Shadow transport minister Sam Tarry joined striking workers on the picket line at London Euston station, in defiance of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s orders to stay away.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “If we don’t make a stand today, people’s lives could be lost.”
Asked whether he expects to be sacked by Sir Keir, Mr Tarry said: “I’ve no idea what Keir will decide to do but I know this – if Keir was in government right now, this dispute wouldn’t be happening.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News that Mr Tarry’s actions are “clearly in direct defiance of Sir Keir” and “no doubt he’ll want to remove him from his job”.
Many passengers turning up at stations are unaware of the strike.
Fabian Ward was sat on the Birmingham New Street concourse planning how to get home to Telford 34 miles away.
He said: “I didn’t know about the strikes to be fair, otherwise I would have driven.”
London Waterloo station is quieter than normal, although hundreds of passengers left trains arriving at 8.10am and 8.30am.
A few dozen protesters are on a picket line at the main entrance to the station.
Some are waving RMT flags, others are selling copies of socialist newspapers and wearing RMT-branded T-shirts.
Members of the National Education Union are also there in support.
Ola, one of the pickets, said: “We have been here since 7am. The support from the public has been particularly good.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said union members are more determined than ever to secure a decent pay rise, job security and good working conditions.
“Network Rail have not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train companies have not offered us anything new,” he said.
Mr Lynch added: “RMT will continue to negotiate in good faith but we will not be bullied or cajoled by anyone.”
Mr Shapps said in his three years as Transport Secretary there has not been a single day when unions have not been in dispute by threatening or taking industrial action, with around 60 separate disputes in 2022 alone.
“Today, union bosses are once again trying to cause as much disruption as possible to the day-to-day lives of millions of hardworking people around the country,” he said.
“What’s more, it has been cynically timed to disrupt the start of the Commonwealth Games and crucial Euro 2022 semi-finals, in a deliberate bid to impact the travel of thousands trying to attend events the whole country is looking forward to.”
⚠️ A limited timetable is in operation today due to strike action. ⚠️
❗If you must travel, please make sure to check your last train:
— Network Rail (@networkrail) July 27, 2022
Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Shapps dubbed the strikes an example of “union collusion”, adding he would seek to ban “strikes by different unions in the same workplace within a set period”.
He said he would also look at implementing a 60-day cooling-off period after each strike, as well as ensuring critical industries like rail maintain minimum service levels.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “Despite our best efforts to find a breakthrough, I’m afraid there will be more disruption for passengers this week as the RMT seems hell-bent on continuing their political campaigning, rather than compromising and agreeing a deal for their members.
“I can only apologise for the impact this pointless strike will have on passengers, especially those travelling for holidays or attending events such as the Uefa Women’s Euro 2022 semi-final (on Wednesday) and the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games (on Thursday).”
Members of the RMT and TSSA will launch co-ordinated strikes on August 18 and 20, while the RMT announced a strike on London Underground on August 19.