After members of the RMT rail union voted 8:1 in favour of strike action over jobs, pay and conditions, their union has called nationwide rail strikes for three dates in late June.
Union members at Network Rail and 13 train operators will stage 24-hour walkouts on 21, 23 and 25 June.
What will the effect be? And are other disputes on the horizon?
These are the key questions and answers:
What is the dispute about?
Britain’s biggest rail union, the RMT, has called three days of industrial action at both Network Rail and 13 train operators over pay, redundancies and “a guarantee there will be no detrimental changes to working practices”.
It says: “Network Rail and the train operating companies have subjected their staff to multi-year pay freezes and plan to cut thousands of jobs which will make the railways unsafe.”
The union’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, has vowed “a sustained campaign of industrial action which will shut down the railway system”.
When are the strikes?
Tuesday 21, Thursday 23 and Saturday 25 June. The industrial action will affect services after the strike dates, ie the Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
The strike coincides with a number of big events in late June:
- 22-26: Glastonbury
- 23 By-elections at Tiverton & Honiton and Wakefield
- 23-27: England v New Zealand cricket Test (Leeds)
- 24-26: British Athletics Championships (Manchester)
- 24: Elton John, BST Hyde Park gig
- 25: Armed Forces Day
- 25: Rolling Stones, BST Hyde Park gig
The stoppage could also affect school students who travel by train – it coincides with history and physics exams.
The trend over the past few years in rail disputes is for a series of 24-hour strikes to be called. That limits the financial hit sustained by striking workers, but still causes widespread disruption.
How big was the majority in favour of striking?
Of the 71 per cent of members who voted, 89 per cent backed strike action. This represents 63 per cent of the workforce balloted, numbering more than 25,000 workers.
According to the RMT, it is “the biggest dispute on the network since 1989” and will involve 40,000 workers.
Just remind me about Network Rail and the train operators …
Network Rail is the infrastructure provider. The most critical roles in the day-to-day running of the railway are the signallers, who number around 5,000.
Train operators are assigned a patch of the network on which to run trains. Those whose RMT members voted in favour of strike action are:
- Avanti West Coast
- Chiltern Railways
- East Midlands Railway
- Greater Anglia
- South Western Railway
- TransPennine Express
- West Midlands Trains (including London Northwestern Railway)
At one train operator, GTR, the backing was too low to pass the threshold for a strike. GTR runs Southern, Thameslink, Gatwick Express and Great Northern services in southeast England.
The Island Line on the Isle of Wight is unaffected.
What will be the effect of the strike ?
The main issue is the walk out by Network Rail signallers. Management and other staff expect to be able to cover about half the GB rail network for about 12 hours per day. On many lines, no trains will run at all.
Only main lines and busy commuter services will be served, primarily those radiating from London, and including:
- West Coast main line to Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow
- Midland main line to Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield
- East Coast main line to Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh,
- GWR to Bristol and Cardiff
In addition, key commuter lines serving London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh will be kept open.
Last trains could leave as early as 2pm in order to complete their journeys by the time the network closes.
The direct economic damage is estimated at £30m per day.
How will the passengers respond?
Rail travel habits have fundamentally changed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with many former commuters able to work from home. For them, the strikes will be irrelevant.
Key workers who have to be present at their place of employment – from health service staff and teachers to hospitality employees – will be badly affected.
Some leisure and business passengers may abandon plans to buy advance tickets for summer dates because of the threat of a stoppage.
The recent rise in train fares, combined with a cut in fuel duty to help drivers with the soaring price of petrol may well be moving travellers from rail to road – a longer-term trend likely to accelerate with each day of industrial action.
What are my rights if my train is cancelled?
You could claim a full refund, but if you can l you can use your ticket on any train on adjacent days.
Train operators will not meet claims for alternative transport.
What does each side say?
The RMT says: “We have a cost of living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze when inflation is at 11.1pc and rising.
“Rail companies are making at least £500m a year in profits, whilst fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This unfairness is fuelling our members’ anger and their determination to win a fair settlement.
“RMT is open to meaningful negotiations with rail bosses and ministers, but they will need to come up with new proposals to prevent months of disruption on our railways.”
Steve Montgomery, group chair of the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, said: “No one wins in the event of a strike. Staff lose pay, the industry loses vital revenue making it harder to afford pay increases, and passengers and businesses are disrupted.
“While we will keep as many services running as possible, sadly if this action goes ahead, significant disruption will be inevitable. We therefore urge passengers to plan their journeys carefully and find alternative ways to travel during the strike period where possible.”
Ultimately the government will decide what can be offered. Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “It is incredibly disappointing the RMT have decided to take action that could drive passengers away from the rail network for good.
“The pandemic has changed travel habits – with 25 per cent fewer ticket sales and the taxpayer stepping in to keep the railways running at a cost of £16bn, equivalent to £600 per household. We must act now to put the industry on a sustainable footing.”
Could we see even longer strikes?
Unlikely. The preference of the RMT union is for repeated one-day strikes.
There are a few exceptions, such as the South Western Railway strike in December 2019, in which RMT members took industrial action for almost the entire month in a dispute over the role of guards. The train operator ran about half its normal services.
Anything else in the offing?
Transport for Wales and ScotRail were not involved in the RMT ballot – but ScotRail is currently cancelling 700 trains per day as a result of a dispute involving the train drivers’ union, Aslef.
The white-collar rail union, TSSA, is threatening what its general secretary called “a summer of discontent”. Members are being consulted ahead of a possible strike ballot if pay fails to keep pace with inflation – which hit 9 per cent last week.
Ministers say they may mandate a minimum level of staffing. How would that work?
The transport secretary told parliament: “We can no longer tolerate a position where rail workers can exercise their right to strike without any regard for how the rights of others are affected. Nurses, teachers and other working people who rely on the railway must be able to travel.
“Minimum service levels are a government manifesto commitment, and they will require train operators to run a base number of services even in the event of future strike action.
“We will be bringing in legislation to protect the travelling public if agreement cannot be reached when major disruption is expected, as with the strikes this week.
But Mick Lynch said: “Any attempt by Grant Shapps to make effective strike action illegal on the railways will be met with the fiercest resistance from RMT and the wider trade union movement.
“We have not fought tooth and nail for railway workers since our forebears set up the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1872, in order to meekly accept a future where our members are prevented from legally withdrawing their labour.”
Here is a breakdown of some of the delays and closures on the major networks this week
Avanti West Coast has warned that the strike action will cause fewer trains to run, while some stations will have no service at all. Disruption updates are available via its webpage.
A spokesperson for the operator warned that travel on its routes could also be disrupted on dates either side of the action, and “strongly” advised passengers “to only travel by rail if necessary on strike days”.
C2C similarly said it expected “significant disruption” to hit services on both the strike dates and the days around them. It urged passengers to limit travel to “essential” circumstances only and to “work from home if you can.”
“On the C2C route, we will be operating a reduced service from 07:30-18:30, equating to less than a third of normal service levels,” it added. Full details of disruption to C2C services are available here.
Meanwhile, all services have been cancelled by Caledonian Sleeper from Monday to Friday this week (no trains run on Saturdays anyway).
Chiltern Railways has said that strike action will cause its services to start at 8am and finish before 6pm this week.
Just two trains per hour will run to and from London Marylebone, one to Banbury and the other to Aylesbury Vale Parkway via High Wycombe. Last trains from Marylebone, London, will be the 3.10pm to Banbury, 4.10pm to Bicester North and 4.45pm to Aylesbury Vale Parkway via High Wycombe.
Transport for London will also be badly affected by action on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Strikes in the capital will take place on Tuesday until Wednesday morning, and will impact the Elizabeth line, London Overground services, and some Tube services. The details can be read in full here.
Although Southern workers will not be on strike, “severe disruption” to its services is expected. From Tuesday to Sunday, it will “operate limited opening hours with services starting later and finishing much earlier than usual,” a spokesperson said. More information is available on its website.
Some of the most acute disturbance will be seen on Thameslink services, which said that many stations and routes will be closed. Those running will operate from around 7.15am until late afternoon, the details of which can be read here.
No trains will run through the central London core between St Pancras and London Bridge.
Key lines into major UK airports will also be badly affected by the industrial action. Gatwick Express services will not run at all on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this week, though alternative trains are available.
Heathrow Express has said its services will also be significantly affected and has urged customers to “allow additional time when travelling on these days.”
Meanwhile, Stansted Express is advising that passengers avoid all but absolutely necessary travel.
“Services running will only operate from 7.30am, with the last trains finishing their journeys by 6.30pm,” a spokesperson said, adding: “There will be two trains an hour (reducing to one train an hour on Thursday 23 June, when train drivers are also on strike).”
The first and last trains from Stansted Airport to London Liverpool Street will be 7.42am and 5.12pm, while the first and last trains from London Liverpool Street to Stansted Airport will be 8.10am and 5.40pm.
More information is available via their respective websites.
Last trains to London, Leeds and Edinburgh via LNER have been pushed forward to a significantly earlier time than usual, according to the operator’s website. It will run around 38 per cent of its usual trains.
“If you can avoid travelling over this period we recommend doing so,” a spokesperson said.
“If you do need to travel, please check our website and journey planner before your journey.”
A reduced service will be run by CrossCountry and advance ticket purchases have been suspended on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this week. It has also warned that days in between the strike action may also be affected. Read more here.
A significantly reduced service will also be operated by East Midlands Railway both on and around strike days. It also warned passengers to “expect some disruption to the advertised service levels, particularly on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.” All changes to its route can be read on its webpage.
Similar plans are in place for Grand Central’s two routes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Reservations are compulsory on these days and customers without reservations will not be permitted to board. Its strike timetable is available here.
Great Western has said it will operate as “many trains as possible” but warned customers its services will be “severely affected” from 21 to 25 June. According to its website, an extremely limited service will operate on strike days between 7.30am and 6.30pm. On non-strike days, no services will run before 7am.
Greater Anglia has said that none of its regional and branch lines trains will run on strike days, while a limited service will operate elsewhere between 7.30am and 6.30pm. It urged passengers to check its webpage, app or social media before travelling.
A spokesperson added: “Unfortunately, there will be a knock-on effect on the day before and after each strike, so first train times will be later than usual. Also last train times on the days before strikes could be affected.”
Northern has said that services will not be able to operate on “most routes” due to “extremely limited availability of both train crew and signalling staff” on strike days. It also said there will be no replacement buses or alternative travel provided. Read more here.
A limited number of services will operate on just five ScotRail routes in the Central Belt, while all others will be suspended, according to its website.
A spoksperson said: “This dispute does not involve ScotRail staff, however it will have a major knock-on effect on the train operator’s ability to provide services as the RMT planned action will involve Network Rail staff in Scotland.”
SouthWestern will offer a severely limited service between 7.15am and 6.30pm on some routes, with the rest of the network closed. The operator has urged customers only to travel if absolutely necessary between 21 and 26 June. More information can be seen here.
Most of SouthEastern’s stations and routes will be closed and spokesperson said it “will only be able to run a severely reduced service,” adding: “Only travel by rail if necessary. If you do travel, expect severe disruption and plan ahead. We strongly recommend you plan ahead and make alternative plans.” Visit its website for more details on the disruption to its services.
Transport for Greater Manchester has said that all of its lines will run to their usual frequency and times, bar the Altrincham to Timperley route which will only be from 7am to 7pm on strike days, and will run every 2 minutes. Read more here.
TransPennine Express says it will run an amended timetable on RMT strike action dates, which will see a significant reduction in available services, the details of which are outlined on its webpage. “We’re advising customers to only travel if journeys are essential and to seek alternative means of transport if possible,” a spokesperson said.
Customers have been advised by Transport for Wales not to travel by train on 21, 23 and 25 June as most of its services will be suspended on those days.
According to its website, the only services running on those dates will be a reduced service between Radyr and Treherbert, Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil, with replacement bus services between Radyr and Cardiff Central.
West Midlands Railway has said the strike will have “considerable impact on the number of trains we are able to run. A spokesperson added: “We will be running a very limited service on these dates between 7.30am and 6.30pm only.
“Due to the knock-on impact of the strike, a very limited service will also be running on Wednesday 22 June 2022 and Friday 24 June 2022.
“Our advice to customers is to only travel during this time if your journey is essential and you have no other means of transport available. If you do travel, expect severe disruption and plan ahead.”
Read more here.