Commuters were being hit with further travel misery on Thursday as the RMT holds a second day of strikes on Britain’s railways.
The union confirmed that industrial action would go ahead as planned after talks between the union, Network Rail and train operators hit a stumbling block once again on Wednesday afternoon.
At least 40,000 RMT members will picket amid an ongoing dispute over redundancies and real-term pay cuts. The railway will run at 20 per cent capacity, with many of the last inter-city trains set to leave in mid-afternoon.
A bitter row between ministers and the RMT escalated after the union claimed that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had “wrecked” negotiations by refusing to allow Network Rail to withdraw a letter threatening 2,900 members with redundancy. Mr Shapps said the claim was “a total lie” and accused RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch of “wasting time making false claims in the media”.
“The RMT continues to deflect from the fact that the only people responsible for the massive public disruption this week is them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Transport for London (TfL) warned that some disruption to Tube services was likely because of the rail strike, with a reduced service set to run on Thursday on the London Overground and Elizabeth Line. Commuters should aim to complete their journey by 6pm, TfL said.
Announcing Thursday’s walkout, Mr Lynch said: “Grant Shapps has wrecked these negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw their letter threatening redundancy for 2,900 of our members.
“Until the Government unshackle Network Rail and the train operating companies, it is not going to be possible for a negotiated settlement to be agreed.
“We will continue with our industrial campaign until we get a negotiated settlement that delivers job security and a pay rise for our members that deals with the escalating cost-of-living crisis.”
The RMT has called for a pay rise of 7 per cent to offset the cost of living crisis though employers have offered a maximum of 3 per cent. Inflation is currently 9.1 per cent, but the Bank of England forecasts that it will reach around 11 per cent in the autumn.
Network Rail’s chief negotiator Tim Shoveller told the BBC that around 1,800 jobs were expected to be cut but “the vast majority” would be through “voluntary severance and natural wastage”.
The failure to reach a settlement has sparked fears that industrial action could stretch into the summer. A Network Rail source told the Telegraph that officials are braced for a fresh wave of strike action as early as July 9.
Sir Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of “not lifting a finger” to prevent the strikes during a fiery clash at Prime Minister’s Questions.
“The Prime Minister of this country and his Transport Secretary haven’t attended a single meeting, held a conversation or lifted a finger to stop these strikes,” he said.
He said that “rather than blame everyone else”, Mr Johnson should “do his job, get round the table and get the trains running”.
“Labour is backing the strikers while we back the strivers,” he said.
Members of the drivers’ union Aslef on Greater Anglia will also strike on Thursday in a separate dispute over pay.
The company, which is also affected by the RMT dispute, advised passengers only to travel if it was necessary.
Elsewhere, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) announced that its members at Merseyrail had accepted a 7.1 per cent pay offer – just two per cent below annual CPI inflation.
General secretary Manuel Cortes said the deal showed that unions “are in no way a block on finding the solutions needed to avoid a summer of discontent”.
It comes just two days after 40,000 RMT members staged a walkout on the railway network, bringing larges swathes of the country to a standstill. Just a fifth of trains ran in the UK during the largest strikes in a generation, with severe disruption spilling into Wednesday.
Around 60 per cent of services ran throughout the day as it took time for trains and crews to get to depots following the walkout.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the RMT have again chosen to walk away from negotiations without agreeing a deal. We remain available for talks – day or night – and will do everything we can to avoid further disruption for our passengers.”