Strikes promise Christmas misery for rail and Tube passengers

Hundreds of thousands of rail passengers face delays and cancellations over Christmas because of a series of strikes.

The pre-Christmas getaway, Boxing Day sales and sports fixtures over the festive season could all be hit as unions stage industrial action on the London Underground and around the UK.

Friday is expected to be the busiest travel day of the festive period as millions finish work and attempt to reach family and friends for the holidays. But from one minute past midnight, CrossCountry train staff belonging to the RMT union have been instructed not to start any shifts until midnight on Saturday.

CrossCountry runs the majority of long-distance services that do not start or end in London. The network is centred on Birmingham New Street, and connects the South and South West with the Midlands, Yorkshire and North of England. Some services extend into Scotland, including the UK's longest train service, Aberdeen to Penzance.

Also on Friday, the first effects of a stoppage by ScotRail staff are expected to take effect. The RMT has called strikes for Saturday 22 December and Christmas Eve, but has instructed Sleeper staff not to operate the services that depart from London and Scotland on Friday night as part of an ongoing row following the sacking of a ticket examiner, Scott Lewis, in March. There will also be disruption for Londoners immediately after Christmas.

The union ASLEF confirmed yesterday that Tube drivers will strike on Boxing Day over Bank Holiday pay – the third 26 December walkout in a row. Boxing Day football matches in the capital, including a home game for Arsenal, are likely to be cancelled unless the strike is averted, while many shoppers will struggle to reach the sales in central London.

CrossCountry, which is due to meet with RMT officials today for talks aimed at averting Friday's strike, said it was working on contingency plans that would ensure journeys could be completed if the action goes ahead. It advised passengers not to change their travel plans while talks continued.

The union accuses the train operator of harassing and intimidating on-board staff who fail to meet sales targets, disciplining train managers who do not work on Sundays, and attempting to force out staff injured at work. The general secretary, Bob Crow, said the RMT remained open to talks.

A ScotRail spokesman called the decision to take industrial action "extremely disappointing" and "a clear attack on the travelling public across Scotland at Christmas as well as people heading home from England".