Train passengers have been hit by another wave of 48-hour strikes as Christmas approaches.
At the beginning of November, the leaders of the railway unions seemed ready to conclude an agreement. Canceling a walkout scheduled for the first week of the month, they announced “intensive talks” to break the deadlock in a labor dispute that has prevented desperately overdue reforms to Britain’s railways.
It had been hoped that, through negotiations, critical changes to working practices could be agreed upon. Changes that would save money and enable the wider rail industry to balance the books in the post-Covid world.
But on Tuesday, hopes for a truce were dashed.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) said its 40,000 members would walk out for eight days – the biggest strikes to date in the dispute – effectively paralyzing the rail network for most of a week before Christmas and another week into the New Year.
Given the engineering work scheduled between Christmas and New Year, some lines will be largely out of service for much of the month from mid-December.
When are the train strikes?
- Saturday November 26 – 11 rail operating companies affected by the Aslef drivers’ union strike
- tuesday 13 december
- Wednesday, December 14
- Friday, December 16
- saturday december 17
- Tuesday, January 3
- Wednesday January 4
- friday 6 january
- saturday 7 january
On strike days, only one in five trains is expected to run.
The days following a strike – called “intermediate days” – the schedules will be at about 60% of normal.
There is also a new ban on working overtime and rest days. Railways generally assume that staff will work overtime and rest days. A union ban on this could wreak further havoc. Train bosses are assessing the impact and will adjust schedules accordingly.
Which rail operators are affected?
Almost all train lines will be impacted in one way or another.
The strikes are led by RMT members at Network Rail and 14 rail operators.
The action against the operators is overshadowed by the Network Rail walkouts – and in particular by the flagmen.
Network Rail has reserves of trained flagmen, but only enough to allow 20% of normal capacity to operate.
Aslef strike, November 26
This is rail operator specific. The affected lines are:
- Avanti west coast
- Chiltern Railways
- Cross country
- East Midlands Railway
- Great Western Railway
- Greater England
- London North East Railway
- aerial london
- Northern Trains
- South East
- Transpennine Express
- West Midlands Trains
Can I get a refund if my train is cancelled?
Passengers with tickets can use their ticket either the day before the date indicated on the ticket, or until Tuesday 29 November inclusive.
Passengers with a monthly or longer subscription or who have activated a value of travel days on a flexible subscription who choose not to travel on November 26, can request compensation for these days through the delay reimbursement program. If you are due to travel on November 26 and you already have a ticket, check with the train company.
For RMT strikes, railway officials are assessing what the policy will be and will make an announcement later. It is believed that the policy will be similar to that put in place this Saturday for the Aslef strike.
Why are RMT and Aslef workers on strike?
Both unions are demanding wage increases for their members who are battling runaway inflation.
For Aslef, this is the main issue in dispute. It is believed train operators may not have to offer double-digit pay rises to secure a deal with the drivers’ union.
For RMT, the situation is more opaque. Network Rail has proposed an 8% increase, spread over two years. Rail operators have yet to discuss wage increases, first they want to reach an agreement on sweeping reforms to working practices.
Changes to what have been called “archaic” working practices are the most contentious issue in the dispute.
Travel habits have changed following the pandemic. Fewer and fewer people are going to work every day. More and more people are traveling on off-peak trains, after the morning rush hour or on weekends. Business travel demand is stubbornly much lower than it was before Covid hit.
This means Network Rail and the train operators, whose costs are ultimately borne by taxpayers, must cut costs to balance the books. Part of this can be done by downsizing. But much of this is changing working practices, many of which are a legacy from the days of British Rail and public ownership.
Bosses what to introduce more technology, run teams more efficiently, and end parts of the railroad operating in their own silos.
Unions fear this means job cuts are on the cards – and by extension their power will be weakened.