The UK is preparing for the biggest wave of rail strikes to date, as union leaders announce strikes over the crucial Christmas weekend alongside next week’s industrial action.
Railroad union leaders announced plans to hold more strikes after lengthy talks over the weekend. They dashed hopes of canceling the action after talks with train operators failed to end the stalemate in an industrial dispute that prevented delayed reforms to British railroads. It was hoped that through negotiations, critical changes in working practices could be agreed upon. Changes that will save money and allow the broader rail industry to balance accounts in a post-Covid world.
Hopes for a truce were dashed when the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT) reacted to the lack of an improved offer from train chiefs and led its 40,000 members to arrange additional layoffs later this month. Workers will now strike from 6 pm on Christmas Eve to 6 am on December 27, after the first two 48-hour strikes scheduled for next week. RMT said Network Rail will provide workers with the latest salary and job offer along with advice to decline.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT, said it was unfortunate that the union was “forced to take this action because of the continuing intransigence of employers”.
This means the UK is poised for the biggest strikes ever in the dispute – effectively crippling the rail network for the best part of a week before Christmas, the days close to Christmas, and another week over New Year’s. On strike days other than Christmas marches, trains will stop operating from 02:00 on the day of the strike until 02:00 the next day, causing a two-day disruption. Rail passengers have also been warned that services may stop at lunchtime on Christmas Eve.
Given the planned engineering work and regional strike actions between Christmas and New Year, some lines will be largely out of service for the best part of a month from mid-December.
What dates are train strikes in December and January?
Nationwide RMT strikes
- Tuesday, December 13
- Wednesday, December 14
- Friday, December 16
- Saturday, December 17
- Saturday, December 24
- Monday, December 26
- Tuesday, December 27
- Tuesday, January 3
- Wednesday, January 4
- Friday, January 6
- Saturday, January 7
Railroad workers will be off work from Christmas Eve until December 27, but trains usually don’t run on Christmas Day and only limited services operate on the Day After Christmas. But this will mean that tens of thousands of people planning holiday getaways could be stranded across the country and unable to spend their holidays with their families.
Apart from the Christmas weekend marches, on the other strike days, only one in five trains is expected to operate and nearly all operators are affected.
In the days following a strike – the so-called “shoulder days” – tariffs will be roughly 60 percent of normal.
In addition, a new prohibition of overtime and day off has been introduced. Railroads typically operate on the assumption that staff will work overtime and rest days. A trade union ban on this could cause more damage. Train bosses are assessing the impact and will adjust schedules accordingly.
There are also a number of other regional rail strikes on other dates in December:
Friday 2 December – Combined strike affecting East Midlands Railways Saturday 3 December – Combined strike affecting East Midlands Railways
- Sunday, December 11 – RMT Avanti West Coast strike
- Monday, December 12 – RMT Avanti West Coast strike
- Friday, December 23 – Combined strike affecting East Midlands Railways
- Saturday 24 December – Combined strike affecting East Midlands Railways
Avanti said it expects its services to be significantly reduced on 11/12 December due to industrial action. East Midlands Railroad has warned that services will be extremely limited with final departures until 4:30pm on strike days.
Which train operators are affected?
Nearly every train line will be affected in some way.
The strikes were carried out by RMT members at Network Rail and 13 train operators.
- northern trains
- Avanti West Coast
- cross country
- Chiltern Railways
- Great Anglia
- Govia Thameslink (plus Gatwick Express)
- London underground
- West Midlands Trains (plus London Northwest Railway)
- Great Western Railway
- Transpennine Express
Action against operators has been marred by strikes at Network Rail, and signal workers in particular.
Network Rail has a reserve of trained signal workers, but only enough to allow 20% of normal capacity to operate.
Avanti West Coast and East Midlands Railways will also be affected by the additional strike action in December.
Eurostar strikes will affect holidays
Security staff at Eurostar will go on strike later this month over a salary dispute, which has the potential to disrupt holiday plans.
Members of the Railway, Shipping and Transport union rejected a below-inflationary salary offer and will go out of business on 16, 18, 22 and 23 December.
The strike action will seriously affect Eurostar services and people’s travel plans throughout the December period.
Can I get a refund if my train is cancelled?
Railroad chiefs are still assessing what the policy will be and will make an announcement close in time. Previously, customers could use pre-booked tickets a day early or request a refund if they needed to travel on strike day.
Season ticket holders may be eligible for a 50% refund of their return ticket if you are unable to be part of your journey, while customers may previously claim compensation through a delayed refund plan. Customers must request a refund within 28 days.
National Rail’s website states: “If you have purchased a ticket pre-, off-peak, or at any time and choose not to travel at all because your service on your outbound or return journey has been cancelled, delayed or rescheduled, then you will be eligible for a refund. or exchange from the original seller of your ticket.”
At Avanti West Coast strikes, customers can redeem their 11 or 12 December ticket anytime from today until 14 December. They can also request a refund if they travel on Sunday, December 11, Monday, 12 or Tuesday, December 13.
Why are railroad workers on strike?
Unions are demanding pay raises for their members struggling with rising inflation. RMT chairman Mick Lynch said the union “will not bow to pressure from employers and government to the detriment of our members”.
Network Rail has offered a 5% salary increase for RMT this year and 4% in 2023. Train operating companies said they were waiting for Government authorization for a better offer.
Changes to so-called “archaic” work practices are the most controversial issue in the dispute.
Travel habits have changed after the pandemic. Fewer people commute to work every day. More people are traveling on off-peak trains, after morning rush hour or on weekends. Demand for business travel is stubbornly much lower than before the Covid coup.
This means Network Rail and train operators, whose costs are ultimately borne by taxpayers, must cut costs to balance the books. Part of this can be done by reducing the number of staff. But much of it is changing working practices, many of which are legacy from the days of British Rail and public ownership.
Bosses will introduce more technology, make teams more efficient, and end parts of the railroad that work in their own silos.
Unions fear this will mean layoffs are likely, thereby weakening their power.
Royal Mail employees also planned a series of walkouts that could disrupt Christmas deliveries. Read the dates of the strikes and the details of the final Christmas announcement.