Britain is braced for its biggest wave of rail strikes to date, as union leaders announced walk-outs over the key Christmas weekend on top of next week's industrial action.
Rail union leaders unveiled plans to stage further walk-outs after lengthy talks over the weekend. They extinguished hopes of calling off the action, after the discussions with train operators failed to break the deadlock in an industrial dispute that has prevented overdue reforms to Britain’s railways. It had been hoped that through negotiations, critical changes to working practices could be agreed upon. Changes that would save money and allow the wider rail industry to balance the books in the post-Covid world.
Hopes of a truce were dashed as the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) lashed out at the lack of an improved offer from train chiefs, and put its 40,000 members on course to stage additional walk-outs later this month. Workers are now due to strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27, on top two planned 48-hour strikes next week. The RMT said they would be putting the latest offer on pay and jobs from Network Rail to workers with the recommendation to reject it.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said it was unfortunate that the union had been "compelled to take this action due to the continuing intransigence of the employers".
It means Britain is set for the biggest strikes to date in the dispute – effectively crippling the rail network for the best part of a week before Christmas, as well as in the days around Christmas and another week in the New Year. On the strike days outside of the Christmas walk-outs, trains will stop running between 2am on the strike day to 2am on the following day on strike days, causing two days of disruption.
Taking into account scheduled engineering works and further regional strike action between Christmas and New Year, some lines will be largely out of service for the best part of a month from the middle of December.
What dates are the 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
Rail workers are due to walk out from Christmas Eve to December 27, although no trains typically run on Christmas Day and only limited services run on Boxing Day. However, it will mean tens of thousands of people planning festive get-aways could be left stranded around the country, and unable to spend the holidays with their families.
Outside of the Christmas weekend walk-outs, on other strike days, it is expected that just one in five trains will run and nearly all operators will be impacted.
On the days following a strike – so-called “shoulder days” – timetables will be roughly 60pc of normal.
There is also a new overtime and rest day working ban. The railways typically work on the assumption that staff will work overtime and on rest days. A union ban on this could cause further havoc. Train bosses are assessing the impact and will adjust timetables accordingly.
There are also a series of further regional rail strikes on other dates in December:
Friday December 2 - Unite strike impacting East Midlands Railways Saturday December 3 - Unite strike impacting East Midlands Railways
Sunday 11 December - RMT Avanti West Coast strike
Monday 12 December - RMT Avanti West Coast strike
Friday December 23 - Unite strike impacting East Midlands Railways
Saturday December 24 - Unite strike impacting East Midlands Railways
Avanti has said it expects its services to be significantly reduced on 11/12 December due to industrial action. East Midlands Railway has warned services will be extremely limited with last departures by 4.30pm on strike days.
Which train operators are affected?
Nearly every train line will be impacted in some way.
The strikes are by RMT members at Network Rail and across 13 train operators.
Avanti West Coast
Govia Thameslink (plus Gatwick Express)
West Midlands Trains (plus London Northwestern Railway)
Great Western Railway
The action against the operators is overshadowed by the walkouts at Network Rail - and in particular by signal workers.
Network Rail has reserves of trained signal workers, but only enough to allow 20pc of normal capacity to run.
Avanti West Coast and East Midlands Railways will also be impacted by additional strike action in December.
Eurostar strikes to impact holidays
Security staff at Eurostar will go on strike later this month in a dispute over pay, potentially disrupting festive holiday plans.
The members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union have rejected a below inflation pay offer and will walk out on December 16,18, 22 and 23.
The strike action will severely affect Eurostar services and travel plans for people over the December period.
Can I get a refund if my train is cancelled?
Rail chiefs are still assessing what the policy will be and will make an announcement closer to the time. Previously, customers have been able to use pre-booked tickets a day early, or claim refund if they are due to travel on the day of the strike.
Customers with season tickets have previously been able to claim compensation through the delay repay scheme, while return tickets may be eligible for a 50pc refund if you cannot make part of your journey. Customers need to claim for refunds within 28 days.
National Rail's website states: "If you purchased an advance, off-peak or anytime ticket and choose not to travel at all because your service on either your outward or return journey has been cancelled, delayed or rescheduled then you will be entitled to a refund or change from the original retailer of your ticket."
On the Avanti West Coast strikes, customers can use tickets dated on 11 or 12 December at any time between today and December 14. They can also claim a refund if they are due to travel on Sunday 11, Monday 12 or Tuesday 13 of December.
Why are rail workers striking?
Unions are demanding pay rises for their members who are battling soaring inflation. Mick Lynch, head of the RMT, has said the union "will not bow to pressure from the employers and the government to the detriment of our members".
For RMT, Network Rail has offered a 5pc pay rise this year and 4pc in 2023. The train operating companies said they were waiting for a mandate from the Government for an improved offer.
Changes to what have been branded "archaic" working practices are the most contentious issue in the dispute.
Travelling habits have changed following the pandemic. Fewer people commute to work every day. More people are travelling on off-peak trains, after the morning rush hour or on weekends. Demand for business travel is stubbornly much lower than it was before Covid hit.
This means Network Rail and the train operators, whose costs are ultimately borne by taxpayers, must cut costs to balance the books. Part of this can be done by reducing staff numbers. But a large part of it is changing working practices, many of which are a legacy of the days of British Rail and public ownership.
Bosses what to introduce more technology, run teams more efficiently, and end parts of the railway operating in their own silos.
Unions fear this means job cuts are on the cards - and by extension, their power will be weakened.
Royal Mail workers have also planned a series of walkouts that could disrupt Christmas deliveries. Read what dates the strikes are being held as well as last Christmas posting details.