How much do train drivers earn? Average salary in the UK for rail workers, why are they striking over wages?

Wages for drivers and train conductors varies between companies and locations

The country's largest train union has been warned by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that this week's strikes will be a "huge act of self-harm" that could jeopardise the industry's survival.

Shapps dismissed a plea for the government to intervene from the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union as a "stunt," saying the organisation had been "gunning" for strike action for weeks.

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But Labour said ministers needed to intervene to keep the network from "grinding to a halt" due to a disagreement over pay, conditions and job losses.

Thousands of workerswill launch a multi-day walk out later this month, bringing the country's train network to a halt for the biggest rail strike in 30 years.

The RMT union has said its members should prepare to "shut down the rail system" in protest of low pay, layoffs and safety concerns.

The strikes are threatening to interrupt travel for a number of key events including concerts, Test match cricket and the Glastonbury music festival.

But why exactly are rail workers striking? And how much does your average train driver earn?

Here is everything you need to know.

When are the strikes?

On 21 June, 50,000 employees from Network Rail, 13 train operating firms and London Underground will strike, the latter over a separate issue from the national strike.

Then, on 22 and 25 June, about 40,000 employees will take part in a nationwide strike.

While the nationwide action will be limited to three days, the strike is expected to have a week-long impact on services.

On those days, fewer than one in five train services is expected to run, with limited services between the hours of 7am and 7pm, and only on main routes.

(Image: NationalWorld)

Why are they striking?

The RMT union claims that railway workers who worked through the pandemic are suffering job losses, a wage freeze and attacks on employment standards.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Railway workers have been treated appallingly and, despite our best efforts in negotiations, the rail industry, with the support of the Government, has failed to take their concerns seriously.

“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 11.1% and rising.

“Our union will now embark on a sustained campaign of industrial action which will shut down the railway system.”

How much does a train driver earn?

According to the Government’s National Careers Service, trainee salaries start around £24,000 a year, increasing to as much as £60,000 annually for an experienced driver.

Drivers work 35 to 40 hours per week on average, including evening and weekend shifts, and free or discounted travel is one of the perks.

A Southern Train comes in to Selhurst Park Station in London (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

According to recruitment firm Reed, these are the average salaries for a train driver working in these companies:

  • London North Eastern Railway (LNER) – £30,000 to £70,000
  • Transport for London (TfL) – £57,217 to £61,620
  • Scotrail – £50,659 to £56,245
  • Northern Rail – £40,104 to £57,546
  • East Midlands Railway – £54,403 to £61,467
  • Great Western Railway – £49,807 to £67,304
  • Merseyrail – £50,572 to £55,415
  • Southeastern Railway – £37,261 to £58,503

Train conductors are lower paid and typically work longer weeks; they can earn between £23,000 and £36,000, and can work average weeks of 43 - 45 hours.

Train station employees who deal with passengers and carry out duties in stations and on platforms can expect to earn between £17,500 and £27,000.

Rail track maintenance workers who inspect and repair railway tracks, bridges, tunnels, and viaducts have it the worst, earning between £16,500 and £34,000 for 45+ hour weeks.

Could the strikes be stopped?

As the amount of disruption that could be caused by the planned industrial action becomes apparent, talks are to be held in an attempt to avoid the strikes.

Sources told the PA news agency that talks between Network Rail (NR) and the RMT union are scheduled to take place in the coming days.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, said the company is “doing everything we can” to avoid a strike.

“There are two weeks until the first strike is planned. We will use this time to keep talking to our unions and, through compromise and common sense on both sides, we hope to find a solution and avoid the damage that strike action would cause all involved,” he said.

Although the RMT indicated it is open to “meaningful negotiations” to try to resolve the conflict, no direct talks between the union and train companies are planned.