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Rail strikes: what’s happening in September and how will passengers be affected?

As the three rail unions announce more 24-hour strikes, this is the state of play

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 01 September 2022 18:13 BST
On time? LNER Azuma train at London King's Cross
On time? LNER Azuma train at London King's Cross (Simon Calder)

Another series of rail strikes have been announced for September in disputes over pay, working conditions and jobs. But who’s involved and how will it affect passengers?

Who is striking – and when?

The RMT union has called walk-outs on 15 and 17 September, involving more than 40,000 members working for Network Rail and 14 train operating companies.

The first date, Thursday 15 September, coincides with a strike involving train drivers working for 12 rail firms and belonging to the Aslef union.

The second stoppage, Saturday 17 September, will see many services reduced or cancelled altogether – though train drivers will be working normally where trains are running.

A third strike will take place from 12 noon on Monday 26 September for 24 hours; Members of the white-collar rail union, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) working for Network Rail and nine train operators will walk out .

Which train operators are involved?

The disputes are tangled, and there is no straightforward answer. But let’s start with the 14 affected by the RMT stoppage on 15 and 17 September.

Six are mainly intercity companies, though with plenty of shorter connections (eg Coventry to Birmingham, Derby to Matlock, Durham to Newcastle):

  • Avanti West Coast
  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Railway
  • Great Western Railway
  • LNER
  • TransPennine Express

The remaining eight are largely commuter and shorter-distance operators, though with some longer journeys such as London to Norwich and to Birmingham:

  • c2c
  • Chiltern Railways
  • Greater Anglia
  • GTR (including Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express)
  • Northern
  • Southeastern
  • South Western Railway
  • West Midlands Trains

The intercity operators affected by the Aslef strike on 15 September are very similar, though without East Midland Railway and with the addition of Hull Trains.

The train drivers for six shorter-distance operators are walking out at:

  • Chiltern Railways
  • Greater Anglia
  • London Overground
  • Northern
  • Southeastern
  • West Midlands Trains

In addition, on 15 (but not 17) September RMT members at Hull Trains and London Overground will walk out.

From 12 noon on Monday 26 September for 24 hours, members of the white-collar rail union, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) working for Network Rail and nine train operators – Avanti West Coast, c2c, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, LNER, Southeastern, TransPennine Express, and West Midlands Trains.

What will be the effect of the strikes?

The most significant disruption across Great Britain will take place on 15 September – in what is expected to be the biggest shutdown of the nation’s railways since the early 1980s with both the main rail unions calling members out.

The RMT union claims its strike alone will “effectively shut down the railway network”. Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, says: “Passengers are going to be inconvenienced.”

Will any trains run on 15 September?

Yes. Passengers can expect to be told to attempt to travel only if essential, but as with previous strike days some trains will run.

The biggest impact in earlier RMT strikes this summer has been from the 5,000 Network Rail signallers stopping work across Great Britain. Non-union members have previously enabled a service to run between 7.30am and 6.30pm on strike days, across half the network.

As train drivers working for Grand Central, Lumo, Merseyrail, ScotRail and Transport for Wales are unaffected, some trains will run – though these services are likely to be extremely busy.

In addition, train operators including LNER and Great Western are likely to run a limited service.

Eurostar international trains from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam will not run early in the morning or through the evening.

And subsequent days?

On Saturday 17 September you can expect around 20 per cent of trains to run, mainly on key intercity lines plus suburban lines around London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and southern Scotland.

Disruption on 26 and 27 September is expected to be minimal.

While TSSA members play important roles on the railway, mass cancellatios of thousands of trains is unlikely.

In addition, support for strikes is not as strong as with the RMT and Aslef – where ballots have typically gone 90:10 in favour of strikes, on high turn-outs.

But at the latest ballot of West Midlands Trains staff, TSSA members voted 70:30 on a turn-out of 65 per cent – representing only 45 per cent of members.

What are RMT members striking about?

“Jobs, pay and working conditions,” says the union. General secretary Mick Lynch says: “Network Rail and the train operating companies have shown little interest this past few weeks in offering our members anything new in order for us to be able to come to a negotiated settlement.

Grant Shapps [the transport secretary] continues his dereliction of duty by staying in his bunker and shackling the rail industry from making a deal with us.

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith, but the employers and government need to understand our industrial campaign will continue for as long as it takes.”

What is the train drivers’ strike about?

Pay. Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, says: “The train companies have forced our hand. They want train drivers to take a real terms pay cut – to work just as hard this year as last, but for 10 per cent less. Because inflation is now in double figures and heading higher – much higher, according to some forecasts – and yet the train companies have offered us nothing.

“And this for train drivers who kept Britain moving – key workers and goods around the country – throughout the pandemic and who have not had an increase in salary since 2019.

“We want the companies – which are making big profits, and paying their chief executives enormous salaries and bonuses – to make a proper pay offer to help our members keep up with the increase in the cost of living.”


The union is striving for a better pay deal than what it calls an “insulting 2 per cent offer” earlier in the summer.

What do the train operators say?

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing rail firms, says: “Aslef is once again set to disrupt the travel plans of the very customers who are crucial to the recovery of Britain’s railway and the long-term job security of their members.

“The strikes during the summer affected millions of people, ranging from essential workers to holidaymakers to people attending hospital appointments. Now, with the start of the new school year, thousands of children and young people who depend on the train to get to school and college will be dragged into this dispute.

“We want to give our people a pay rise; we know they are facing a squeeze – but the Aslef leadership must recognise that with revenue remaining 20 per cent below pre-covid levels, the solution lies in long-overdue reforms that will put the industry on a sustainable footing, improve punctuality for passengers and fund the pay rise our people deserve.”

And the government?

Aslef and the RMT union are firmly aligned with Boris Johnson’s government on Brexit, for which they campaigned fervently. But since their victory in the 2016 EU referendum the two sides have moved apart.

The government insists that it is not the employer on the railways and cannot intervene in negotiations between Network Rail, the train operators and TSSA – or the other unions.

But Network Rail is an “arm’s length” part of the Department for Transport (DfT), and since the coronavirus pandemic the train operators are effectively doing the DfT’s bidding, so ministers remain very close to the negotiations.

A DfT spokesperson says of the Aslef strike: “For the ninth time this summer, union leaders are choosing self-defeating strike action over constructive talks, not only disrupting the lives of millions who rely on these services but jeopardising the future of the railways and their own members’ livelihoods.

“These reforms deliver the modernisations our rail network urgently needs, are essential to the future of rail, and will happen; strikes will not change this.”

The TSSA is much smaller than Aslef and the RMT (which covers many roles from signalling to guards). It is in dispute with Network Rail and all the train operators regulated by the Department for Transport (DfT) over pay, job security and employment terms and conditions.

Could the strikes be called off?

The RDG says of the train drivers’ action: “Instead of causing further disruption to those who rely on the railway – many of whom are also losing pay as a result of this dispute – we ask Aslef to call off these damaging strikes and continue to talk to us.”

Mick Whelan, the Aslef boss, says the solution is simple: “Come back to the negotiating table with an offer our members can accept.”

The union represents members working as ticket office and gate staff at stations, some control centre and engineering staff and “a wide range of operation and support roles”.

Could there be more strikes?

Almost certainly. Besides the issues of pay, redundancies and working conditions, the RMT union is concerned about what it says are plans to close ticket offices at stations.

In addition, the RMT has signalled further strikes by members working for Transport for London following a funding settlement with the government.

The general secretary, Mick Lynch, says: “This deal negotiated in secret by TfL and government ministers will likely see our members pensions attacked and further pay restraint in the future, coupled with driverless trains.

“Grant Shapps’ attack on Tube workers would be unacceptable at any time but in an escalating cost of living crisis it is shameful and will be resisted through further strike action.”

Finally, what’s happening on Avanti West Coast?

The continuing dispute with train drivers is affecting passengers on Avanti West Coast, which is running a reduced timetable until 11 September at the earliest. The biggest reductions are on services linking Birmingham and Manchester with London – cut to just one train an hour rather than three.

The train operator blames “the current industrial relations climate which has resulted in severe staff shortages in some grades through increased sickness levels, as well as the majority of drivers making themselves unavailable for overtime in a co-ordinated fashion, and at short notice”.

Aslef says Avanti should recruit more train drivers.

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