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Family travel during half-term at most schools in England will be hit by the next series of national rail strikes.
Both of the main rail unions have called walk-outs during the break, which runs from 27 May to 4 June.
On Wednesday 31 May and Saturday 3 June, train drivers belonging to Aslef will stop work at more than a dozen operators, including all the key long-distance and commuter rail firms.
The RMT has called a strike by members working at 14 train operators on Friday 2 June.
The timing means services could be disrupted from late on Tuesday 30 May to the morning of Sunday 4 June.
The 3 June drivers’ walk-out coincides with the FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Manchester City, which will be staged at Wembley in northwest London.
Normally tens of thousands of fans would be travelling by rail to the match. It will also affect racegoers travelling to Epsom Derby.
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Since June 2022, national rail strikes in a tangle of disputes about pay, job security and working arrangements have caused problems for tens of millions of train passengers. Stoppages have been called frequently, causing massive disruption and making advance travel planning difficult.
The main rail union, the RMT, has staged walk-outs on 24 days in the current wave of strikes, with Aslef stopping work on eight previous occasions.
These are the key questions and answers.
Who is striking and when?
Aslef has instructed all its train driver members working for 16 train operators to strike on Wednesday 31 May and Saturday 3 June.
The train firms are those contracted by the Department for Transport. They include the leading intercity operators:
- Avanti West Coast
- East Midlands Railway
- Great Western Railway
- TransPennine Express
The vast majority of London commuter operators will also be hit:
- Greater Anglia
- GTR (Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink)
- South Western Railway
Operators focusing on the Midlands and north of England will be affected:
- Chiltern Railways
- Northern Trains
- West Midlands Trains
There will also be a ban on “non-contractual overtime” on Thursday 1 June.
The RMT union has called its members out on strike on Friday 2 June. The same train operators will be involved – with the addition of c2c, which runs from the City of London to south Essex.
What will the effect be?
On many of the previous strikes by the RMT, signalling staff working for Network Rail have walked out and shut down at least half of the rail system. They have now settled, so the network’s infrastructure should be open as normal.
Even so, on each of the strike days, thousands of trains will be cancelled, wrecking travel plans for millions of passengers.
The impact of the drivers’ and RMT walk-outs will be different.
During previous drivers’ strikes, some operators – Avanti West Coast and Southeastern, for example – have cancelled all trains.
Others have run a skeleton service on core routes. On GWR, for example, travellers can expect a basic service from London Paddington to and from Bristol Temple Meads and Cardiff Central.
The RMT walk-out is expected to have less of an impact. GWR will probably run a more extensive timetable, including to and from Exeter and Plymouth.
Avanti West Coast will run a basic service, with one train an hour from each of Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow to London Euston.
LNER is likely to aim to run as many as 40 per cent of normal services on the East Coast main line, concentrating on the London King's Cross-York-Newcastle-Edinburgh spine.
On all the strike dates, the vast majority of services in Scotland and Wales will operate normally as ScotRail and Transport for Wales are not involved in the disputes with Aslef and the RMT.
On routes shared with English operators, such as Aberdeen-Dundee-Edinburgh and Swansea-Cardiff-Newport, some trains may be more crowded than usual.
Passengers can also expect normal service on:
- Caledonian Sleeper
- Grand Central
- Heathrow Express
- Hull Trains
- London Overground
The drivers’ overtime ban is likely to particularly affect long-distance train operators such as Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express.
In addition, some evening services before the strikes and early morning trains after the walk-outs will be cancelled.
Will Eurostar be affected?
No, but connections to and from the train operator’s main hub at London St Pancras International will be difficult because union members working for all three domestic train operators (East Midlands Railway, Southeastern and Thameslink) serving the station will walk out.
Why is Aslef taking industrial action?
Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, said: “We do not want to go on strike. We do not want to inconvenience passengers, we have families and friends who use the railway, too, and we believe in investing in rail for the future of this country.
“But the blame for this action lies, fairly and squarely, at the feet of the employers who have forced our hand over this by their intransigence.
“The proposal – of just 4 per cent – was clearly not designed to be accepted as inflation is still running north of 10 per cent and our members at these companies have not had an increase for four years.”
Mr Whelan said the companies involved are “letting down passengers, and taxpayers,” and that “proposals to modernise Britain’s railways and help them run more efficiently” had been rejected.
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: “This is disappointing news for our customers and staff, more strike action is totally unnecessary and will only heap more pressure on an industry already facing an acute financial crisis.
“Senselessly targeting both the final of Eurovision and the FA Cup final is disappointing for all those planning to attend.
“After many weeks of negotiations with the Aslef leadership, we made a revised and fair offer including a pay rise of 8 per cent over two years. It would have introduced overdue, common-sense improvements already in place in parts of the network, which would will see more trains running on time for passengers. Sadly, this has been rejected.”
Why is the RMT striking?
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing train operators, has made proposals on pay that the RMT says it cannot accept.
The union’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “The government is once again not allowing the Rail Delivery Group to make an improved offer that we can consider.
“Therefore, we have to pursue our industrial campaign to win a negotiated settlement on jobs, pay and conditions.
“Ministers cannot just wish this dispute away. They underestimate the strength of feeling our members who have just given us a new six-month strike mandate, continue to support the campaign and the action and are determined to see this through until we get an acceptable resolution.
“The government now needs to unlock the RDG and allow them to make an offer that can be put to a referendum of our members.”
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: “In recent discussions with the RMT we have continued to stand by the fair, industry level dispute resolution proposal agreed line by line with their negotiating team, which would have resolved this dispute and given our lowest paid staff a rise of up to 13 per cent.
“By calling more strike action the RMT leadership have chosen to prolong this dispute without ever giving their members a chance to have a say on their own offer.
“Instead, they will be subject to yet more lost pay through industrial action, customers will suffer more disruption, and the industry will continue to suffer huge damage at a time when the railway is taking more than its fair share from taxpayers to keep trains running post-Covid.
“We remain open and willing to engage in national level-talks so that we can secure a pay rise for our people and the long-term future of an industry vital to Britain’s economy.”
What does the government say?
Ministers will sign off the final settlement, which will largely be paid for by taxpayers.
The transport secretary, Mark Harper, said before the most recents strike: “Passengers have been forced to endure the RMT’s strike action for almost a year, yet the RMT executive is intent on continuing to force its members to lose even more pay.
“That’s despite having a best and final offer, similar to the pay offer their Network Rail members recently voted to overwhelmingly accept.”
Could the strikes be called off?
Such is the antipathy between the parties that it seems most unlikely.
I have a ticket booked for one of the strike days. What can I do?
Passengers with Advance, Anytime or Off-Peak tickets can have their ticket refunded with no fee if the train that the ticket is booked for is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled.
Train operators are likely to offer flexibility to travel on a wide range of non-strike days.
Passengers with season tickets who do not travel can claim compensation for the strike dates through Delay Repay.
What are the alternatives?
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As always, long-distance coach operators – National Express, Megabus and Flixbus – will keep running, though seats are becoming scarce and fares are rising.
On FA Cup Final day, National Express has return tickets from Manchester direct to Wembley Stadium for £54 return.