Warning of more rail strikes as walkout by train drivers causes travel chaos for passengers
A train drivers’ union has warned passengers to brace for more strike misery in future - as a walkout on Friday caused chaos and another on Saturday is set to cause further major disruption.
London travellers faced severe delays as no Gatwick and Heathrow Express trains ran on Friday, while London workers living in commuter towns were left stranded as operators such as Southern, Southeastern and Thameslink also had no services running.
Members of the Aslef union at 15 train operators were taking industrial action in a dispute over pay, with general secretary Mick Whelan warning of more strikes, saying members were in it “for the long haul”.
The misery is set to continue on Saturday with workers in the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) striking over pay. It’s set to disrupt travel plans of Londoners hoping to make it to Liverpool to watch the Eurovision Song Contest final.
There will be more train services on Saturday than on Friday but many companies are restricting their number of routes and hours of operation.
Train operators that will be affected by Saturday’s strike are Avanti West Coast, c2c, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Gatwick Express, Great Northern, GWR, Greater Anglia (including Stansted Express), Heathrow Express, LNER, London Northwestern Railway, Northern, South Western Railway, Southeastern, Southern, Thameslink, TransPennine Express and West Midlands Railway.
Passengers are being urged to check before they travel.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We are calling for the rail companies to get around the table with RMT and negotiate in good faith for a better deal for rail workers.”
Meanwhile Aslef has already called further stoppages on May 31 and June 3, the day of the FA Cup final at Wembley.
It comes as Rail minister Huw Merriman warned that commuters were “giving up on rail” and called on Aslef and the RMT to accept a “fair and reasonable” offer that would take train driver salaries to about £65,000.
Mr Whelan revealed there had been no meetings with the Government since January 6 despite continuing deadlock over the pay row. He said that drivers were prepared to continue taking industrial action until they had a decent pay offer.
Aslef has described the Rail Delivery Group’s offer of an 8 per cent wage rise over two years as “risible”.
Mr Whelan, who joined picket lines in Manchester and Liverpool on Friday, said: “The Government seems to think they can starve us back to work, or that we will give up, but that isn’t going to happen.
“We are in this for the long haul and there will be more strikes.”
Mr Whelan accused train operators, and the Government, of trying to take away hard-won terms and conditions in return for a “miserable” below-inflation pay rise for drivers who have not had a wage increase for four years.
The Rail Delivery Group said that after many weeks of negotiations with the Aslef leadership it had made a “revised and fair offer” including a pay rise of 8 per cent over two years.
“It would have introduced overdue, common-sense improvements already in place in parts of the network, which would see more trains running on time for passengers. Sadly, this has been rejected,” said a spokesperson.
Rail minister Huw Merriman confirmed he attended the January meeting, saying he had left unions since then to discuss the Government’s pay offer with the Rail Delivery Group, the body representing train companies.
Mr Merriman said there was an offer on the table for train drivers and urged the union to put it to a ballot of members.
He told Times Radio: “I’m very sorry for the inconvenience that passengers will have to bear.
“The sad reality of this situation is that there are offers on the table which have been given to both the train drivers’ union and the RMT.
“The leadership have chosen not to put those offers to their members and I feel if they did, there would be the opportunity for members to decide if they wish to take them.
“If you look at the train driver situation, they are paid just under £60,000. The pay offer would take them to £65,000 for a 35-hour week.
“We feel these are fair and reasonable, and we need to see those put to their members. So it is not the case that there is not an offer there — the offer is there, we just need it put to members to see what they think about it.”
Mr Merriman said ministers are unable to offer a more modern service or pay for more trains while strikes cost the economy and the rail sector money.
Merseyrail is not affected by the industrial action and is expected to run a normal service during the international music festival.
Northern Ireland is not affected by the strikes, while Scotland and Wales will only be impacted on cross-border services.
ScotRail and Transport for Wales were due to run their usual timetables on Friday.