Train services are facing disruption again across Britain as thousands of railway workers stage their second strike of the week.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators walked out after talks failed to resolve a bitter row over pay, jobs and conditions.
A reduced train service
Just one in five trains will run on Thursday, and lines will only be open between 7.30am and 6.30pm, meaning services will start later and finish earlier than usual.
Trains will mostly be restricted to main lines, with around half of the network closed.
RMT members are also scheduled to stage further strikes on Saturday.
Passengers are advised to only travel by rail “if absolutely necessary” and to check the times of the first and last trains in advance.
Meanwhile, members of the drivers’ union Aslef on Greater Anglia are striking on Thursday in a separate dispute over pay.
The company, which is also affected by the RMT strike, advised passengers to travel only if it is necessary.
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) announced that its members at Merseyrail have accepted a 7.1% pay offer.
Ahead of the strike, the government announced plans to change the law to enable businesses to supply skilled agency workers to plug staffing gaps during industrial action.
Ministers noted that, under current trade union laws, employment businesses are restricted from supplying temporary agency workers to cover for strikers, saying it can have a “disproportionate impact”.
The government said the legislation will repeal the “burdensome” legal restrictions, meaning companies affected by strike action will have the freedom to tap into the services of employment businesses which can provide temporary agency staff at short notice.
Network Rail welcomed the move but Labour and unions condemned it as a “recipe for disaster”.
The RMT accused Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of “wrecking” negotiations, with general secretary Mick Lynch saying: “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.”
Mr Shapps hit back at the accusation, saying the RMT claim was a “lie”.
A Network Rail spokesman 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.
“As a result of this needless and premature strike, rail services will look much like they did on Tuesday – starting later in the morning and finishing much earlier in the evening (around 6.30pm).
“We are asking passengers to please check before you travel, be conscious of when your last available train is departing, and only travel by train if necessary.”
Motorists warned over strikes
The strikes will cause travel misery for millions this week, with motorists warned to expect a surge in traffic as rail passengers switch to the roads.
The AA predicts the worst affected roads are likely to be main motorway arteries, as well as rural and suburban areas.
Pupils and parents are also being urged to make an alternative plan for getting to school for A-level and GCSE exams, while Glastonbury festival-goers will face disruption as about half of Great Western Railway’s trains due to serve Castle Cary in Somerset, carrying revellers to the festival between Wednesday and Friday, are cancelled.
Follow the latest updates from the strike below.
Latest news on the biggest rail strike in 30 years
Downing Street has urged rail union RMT to call off the rail strikes “as quickly as possible”, adding that the industrial action should not “continue for a moment longer then it has to”.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “My understanding is there were talks between the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport union) and Network Rail today.
“But what we want to see is for the unions to call off the strikes, to continue to negotiate and to come to an agreement with their employer.
“We don’t want to see this strike action to continue for a moment longer than it has to.”
The government have not been informed of any further strike action after the planned last day on Saturday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the rail strikes this week are “unnecessary” and stressed the benefits of “sensible reforms” of the rail system.
He said he wanted a “great future” for British railways and said the government “is investing more in railways more any previous government in the last 50 years.
Speaking from Rwanda, he said: “I just think it is important to remember that these strikes are unnecessary. I think people should get around the table and sort it out.”
He continued: “To have a great future for rail, for railway workers and their families, we have got to have some sensible reforms and that is things like reforming ticket offices – I did a huge amount of that when I was running London.
“It is stuff that maybe the union barons are more attached to perhaps than their workers. I think the strikes are a terrible idea.”
More railway workers are to vote on strikes, threatening further travel disruption throughout the summer.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) served notice to ballot dozens of members at TransPennine Express (TPE) for strike action and action short of a strike in a dispute over pay, conditions and job security.
The union is demanding a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies for 2022, no unagreed changes to terms and conditions, and a pay increase which reflects the rising cost of living.
The ballot opens on 29 June and closes in mid-July. This means that the earliest date industrial action could be taken is 27 July.
The TSSA is also balloting its members in Network Rail, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, West Midlands Trains, Avanti West Coast, Northern, LNER, C2C and Great Western Railway (GWR) in an escalating dispute across the railway.
Broadband provider Virgin Media O2 has said “millions more people” are working from home this week amid the ongoing rail strikes.
Train services are disrupted across Britain today as thousands of railway workers stage their second strike of the week
A Virgin Media O2 spokesman said: “Due to the nationwide strikes this week, millions more people are working from home and relying on their broadband services.
“Virgin Media O2 saw a peak 5% week-on-week lift on Tuesday in its broadband upstream traffic, due to the increase of video calls on platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
“The company also saw a 10% week-on-week increase in downstream traffic, with levels up around 1.5 terabits per second (Tbps) to 17.0Tbps over the day.”
Figures published by location technology firm TomTom show the level of road congestion at 9am was higher than the same time last week in London, but was lower or relatively stable in several other cities.
- In London, congestion levels increased from 75% on June 16 to 83% today.
- In Glasgow, congestion levels fell from 40% to 36%.
- In Liverpool, congestion levels fell from 49% to 47%.
- In Manchester, congestion levels rose from 64% to 66%.
The figures reflect the proportion of additional time required for journeys compared with free-flow conditions.
Scotland train users face further disruption today as a second of three scheduled rail strikes goes ahead after talks broke down between RMT union members and railway employers.
It comes after ScotRail cancelled 90% of its services on Tuesday, while cross-border services were also badly affected.
On Wednesday, despite there being no scheduled strike, passengers still faced cancellations and delays.
ScotRail said this has been mainly caused by the staggered reopening of signal boxes.
The train operator urged any passengers wishing to travel on its services this week to check timetables on its website in advance.
Traffic flows on the road network were “remarkably good” for the morning rush-hour, according to senior network planner Frank Bird.
Mr Bird said motorists had followed advice against travelling, but warned that roads into and out of town and city centres are “a little busier”.
Speaking from National Highways’ West Midlands regional operations centre, he said: “I’d like to thank people for taking and heeding our advice.
“At the moment, the look and feel of the network is that traffic numbers are down.
“If you’re going in and out of town and city centres, they’re a little bit busier. People are struggling to find (and) driving around, to find parking spaces.”