Rail passengers have been told to avoid travelling on Christmas Eve as strike action brings “needless misery” across Britain.
Network Rail has said services on Saturday will be severely disrupted as members of the RMT union stage another round of walkouts, beginning at 6pm on Saturday and running until 6am on Boxing Day.
The union has claimed the Christmas strikes would “only affect engineering work and not train services” as trains traditionally shut on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However, Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines branded the claim “laughable” and said many key services would be badly affected.
Network Rail urged passengers only to travel on Christmas Eve “if absolutely necessary”, and to consider making Christmas getaway journeys on an earlier day if possible. It warned that the last trains on some routes on Saturday will depart in the morning, and some routes such as London-Sheffield and London-Nottingham will have no services at all.
Haines said: “RMT suggestions that their planned strike action over the festive period is ‘not targeting Christmas’ would be laughable were the consequences not so painful to so many people, including on Christmas Eve.
“The RMT is causing needless misery to its own members, to the railway and to the country’s economy.”
The RMT strike is due to start at 6pm but Network Rail said that in most locations, that means passenger journeys must be completed by 3pm to allow the trains to be taken out of service. Examples of last train times include 10.45am from Leeds to London, 11am from London to Edinburgh and 12.48pm from London to Manchester.
An overtime ban at 14 train companies in England also means some operators will have no services on Christmas Eve. The day’s timetables will be published on Saturday.
The latest 48-hour walkout comes amid the ongoing bitter disute between the RMT, Network Rail and train operating companies over pay and working conditions. Talks are currently taking place to try to break the deadlock but further strike action is planned for Tuesday 3-Wednesday 4 January 2023, and Friday 6-Saturday 7 January. In addition, staff at CrossCountry will strike on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 December, while workers at West Midlands Trains (WMT) and Great Western Railway will walk out for 24 hours from noon on Wednesday 28 December in a dispute between operators and the TSSA union.
Haines added: “I am so sorry that our passengers are having to bear the brunt of the RMT’s needless strike when a fair offer is on the table and when only a third of the workforce have rejected it.
“Our offer guarantees jobs and gives everyone a decent pay rise of 9% and more. Two of our three trade unions have already accepted, and the RMT needs to think again.”
The RMT described Network Rail’s offer as “substandard”.
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents operators, said: “The RMT’s willingness to disrupt people’s travel plans for the first Christmas in three years without Covid restrictions is deeply disappointing. We worked hard to avoid this damaging widespread campaign of industrial action affecting travel during the festive period and we apologise to our customers.
“The RMT overtime ban in place up to 2 January will also affect services, and we urge customers to check with the websites and social media of National Rail Enquiries and their train operator. We are now focusing on giving passengers the maximum possible certainty so they can make alternative plans if necessary.”