Train strikes 2023: Everything you need to know about rail walk-outs for June

Industrial action is blighting sports fans heading for Wembley’s FA Cup Final and the Epsom Derby

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 02 June 2023 06:48 BST
What strikes are coming up across the UK?

The next series of national rail strikes is under way, mainly affecting travellers in England – including families who were hoping to go by train during the half-term holiday, as well as commuters.

Both of the main rail unions have called walk-outs this week, with disruption continuing until Sunday 4 June – impacting sports fans travelling to the FA Cup Final in Wembley as well as the Epsom Derby.

The industrial action is part of a long and bitter dispute over pay and working arrangements that began in June 2022. Rail workers are demanding a decent pay increase with no strings attached, while the train operators – and ministers, who will sign off the final deal – say a modest wage rise is possible only with changes to increase productivity.

On Wednesday 31 May and Saturday 3 June, train drivers belonging to Aslef are stopping 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.

In the past year, national rail strikes 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 10 previous occasions.

These are the key questions and answers.

Who is striking and when?

Aslef 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
  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Railway
  • Great Western Railway
  • LNER
  • TransPennine Express

The vast majority of London commuter operators will also be hit:

  • Greater Anglia
  • GTR (Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink)
  • Southeastern
  • 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 are involved – with the addition of c2c, which runs from the City of London to south Essex.

What is the effect?

On each of the strike days, thousands of trains are cancelled, wrecking travel plans for millions of passengers. On lines where there are services, they will start later and finish earlier than normal.

The impact of the drivers’ and RMT walk-outs will be different.

The Aslef strikes have led some operators – including Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, TransPennine Express and Southeastern – to cancel all trains.

Others are running a skeleton service on core routes on Saturday 3 June. On GWR, travellers can expect a basic service from London Paddington to and from Bristol Temple Meads as well as local services. Trains will run only 7am to 6.30pm.

LNER will run a regular service on the East Coast main line between London and Edinburgh though with much-reduced hours.

The RMT walk-out is expected to have less of an impact. GWR is running a more extensive timetable, including to and from Cardiff Central, Exeter and Plymouth.

On Friday Avanti West Coast is running a basic service, with one train an hour from each of Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow to London Euston.

LNER is running 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
  • Lumo
  • Merseyrail

In addition, some early morning trains after the walk-outs will be cancelled.

Are airport trains running?

Gatwick, Luton and Birmingham airports have some trains on Friday 2 June but no rail services on Saturday 3 June

Heathrow airport is served by the Elizabeth Line to central London, as well as the London Underground.

Stansted airport has trains to and from London Liverpool Street every hour from around 7am until the evening. Services are likely to be extremely busy.

Manchester airport has limited links, mainly operated by Transport for Wales to and from Manchester Piccadilly and Chester.

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.

In a letter to members, he wrote: “Progress has been slow but we believe there will be an offer shortly. In the event of it not being realistic, or substantial enough, we may need to take further and possibly prolonged industrial action.”

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train operators, said: “We understand the impact of these strikes on individuals and businesses alike, and we can only apologise for this unnecessary and damaging disruption.

“While we are doing all we can to keep trains running, unfortunately there will be reduced train services.”

Passengers are being urged to check before travel, and in particular to ensure they can complete their journey before services end for the day.

Why is the RMT striking?

The RDG 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?

As always, long-distance coach operators – National Express, Megabus and Flixbus – will keep running, though seats are becoming scarce and fares are rising.

On the morning of the FA Cup Final day, National Express has outbound tickets from Manchester direct to Wembley Stadium for £27 one way.

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