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Aslef, the union representing train drivers, has initiated another phase of labor strikes in their ongoing and contentious disagreement with 14 train companies in England regarding compensation and working conditions.
The general secretary, Mick Whelan, stated that the reason for the strike is not to cause inconvenience to passengers, but to demonstrate their displeasure with the government’s inflexibility and the lack of good faith exhibited by the private companies that employ them.
Train operators are requesting a pay raise without any conditions, and then discussing ways to update work methods at a regional level – but this will come at a cost to the employers. Aslef notes that certain drivers have not received a salary increase in the past five years.
According to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), the operators of the train have stated that any salary increase will only be considered if significant changes are made.
The Department for Transport (DfT) will approve all agreements. Taxpayers are covering the costs, as ticket sales have decreased by about 20% compared to before the pandemic, resulting in a subsidy of £16,300 per minute for the railway, which is £4,000 higher than pre-Covid levels.
The union has not had any discussions with the RDG since April or with ministers since January.
A representative from the Department for Transport expressed disappointment that Aslef is choosing to disrupt the public and hospitality establishments during the festive season. Instead of striking, Aslef should consider following the lead of other rail unions and allowing their members to vote on the proposed fair pay agreement.
A representative from the Rail Delivery Group stated: “The strike organized by the Aslef leaders is completely unnecessary and will unfortunately impact customers and businesses during the important holiday season.”
Aslef is currently in conflict with the railway companies that have been contracted by the government to offer rail services. These companies include:
- Avanti West Coast
- East Midlands Railway
- Great Western Railway
- TransPennine Express
London commuter operators:
- Greater Anglia
The transportation companies included in GTR are Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern, and Thameslink.
The South Western Railway system, which includes the Island Line on the Isle of Wight.
Operators specializing in the Midlands and northern regions of England.
- Chiltern Railways
- Northern Trains
- West Midlands Railway
What is planned?
An overtime restriction lasting for nine days is resulting in numerous cancellations from December 1st to 9th.
Union workers will be participating in strikes between the dates of 2 and 8 December. Each day, except for Monday 4 December, a specific region will be the focus of the strike in order to create the biggest impact. As a result, numerous train companies have decided to cancel all of their services on the designated strike days.
Aslef states that they have previously organized a general strike on the same day. However, this time they have chosen to spread out the strike action, which was supported by a majority of members, and also implement an overtime ban throughout the week. This will have a larger impact on the rail industry.
How is the overtime ban impacting?
The effect on each train company varies based on its reliance on overtime and the level of employee absences, which are expected to be greater during the winter season compared to summer.
Several operators have preemptively canceled a large number of services in response to the overtime ban and to minimize disruptions on the day. Passengers are advised that trains may be altered or canceled with short notice.
Several trains were cancelled on the first day, such as South Western Railway’s service from London Waterloo to Southampton, Great Western Railway’s route from London Paddington to Weston-super-Mare via Bristol and Carmarthen through Cardiff and Swansea, and TransPennine Express connections from Manchester and Newcastle to Edinburgh. Additionally, a few Manchester-Leeds-Hull services were also affected.
The following rail companies have announced pre-emptive cancellations:
On weekends, the service will be significantly reduced, and even during weekdays, there will be a decrease in the number of trains available.
Chiltern Railways has announced that there will be a significant decrease in service on most routes and some branch lines will not have any trains running. All routes will also have earlier finishing times than usual. The company has also stated that on December 1st, they will not be able to provide service to the England (Lionesses) vs Netherlands event at Wembley Stadium, with no trains stopping at the stadium for the entire day.
The Gatwick Express will not have any trains running from December 1st to 9th, except for on Sunday December 3rd when a regular schedule will be in place. During the industrial action, Southern trains will connect London Victoria and Gatwick airport.
The branch lines connecting Bletchley and Bedford, Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, and Leamington Spa and Nuneaton will be shut down on most or all days by London Northwestern Railway and West Midlands Railway.
The schedule has been revised to have a reduced number of services. Some services may have delayed start and end times compared to the regular schedule.
Thameslink cautions: “There will be a modified timetable with reduced frequency in effect.”
When and where will the strikes take place?
Aslef members who are train drivers will be going on strike on specific days for certain train companies.
On Saturday, December 2nd, East Midlands Railway and LNER will be in operation.
On Sunday, December 3rd, the following train lines will be operating: Avanti West Coast, Chiltern, Great Northern, Thameslink, and West Midlands Trains.
On Monday, December 4th, there will be no strikes.
- trains to be affected
On Tuesday, December 5, C2C and Greater Anglia train services will experience disruptions.
On December 6th, Wednesday, the following train companies will be running: Southeastern, Southern/Gatwick Express, and South Western Railway.
On Thursday, December 7th, there will be services provided by CrossCountry and GWR.
On Friday, December 8th, there will be trains running on the Northern and TransPennine lines.
Both ScotRail and Transport for Wales are not participants in the disagreement.
What will be the result?
Using past occurrences as a guide, these are the potential effects that may occur if drivers go on strike. It is recommended to double check closer to the date of travel for confirmation.
On December 2nd, East Midlands Railway will not be running any trains. It is advised to avoid traveling on this day and note that there will be no buses available as a replacement for the train service.
On December 2nd, LNER will have frequent trains running on main routes connecting London King’s Cross to Leeds, York, Newcastle, and Edinburgh.
On 3 December, there will be no trains running on Avanti West Coast. Services on the days before and after the strike will also experience disruptions.
On December 3rd, there will be no train service on the Chiltern line.
There will be no train services provided by West Midlands Railway on December 3rd.
On December 3rd, there will be no train service on the Great Northern line.
- On December 3rd, there will be no train service on Thameslink.
On December 5th, there will be no train services.
On December 5th, Greater Anglia will have a reduced schedule for trains connecting London Liverpool Street to Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Southend Victoria, Cambridge, and Stansted airport.
On December 6th, there will be no train service in the southeastern region.
On December 6th, there will be no train service except for a continuous shuttle between London Victoria and Gatwick airport. This service will run from 6am to 11:30am.
On December 6th, the Gatwick Express will not be operating, but the Southern airport shuttle will still provide transportation.
On December 6th, South Western Railway will offer a main service consisting of four trains per hour connecting London Waterloo and Woking. One train per hour will also travel to Guildford and Basingstoke. Additionally, there will be a shuttle from Basingstoke to Salisbury, and trains will operate between Waterloo and Feltham via Richmond and Twickenham.
There will be no train services on CrossCountry on December 7. Due to the industrial strike the day before, services may begin later than usual on Friday, December 8.
On December 7th, the Great Western Railway (GWR) will have a primary route operating from London Paddington to Oxford, Bath, and Bristol. There will also be a connection from Bristol to Cardiff. Limited service will be available on branch lines in Devon and Cornwall. The Night Riviera sleeper service from London to Penzance will not be running until Friday, October 6th.
From 7am to 7pm on December 7th, Heathrow Express will have a limited schedule.
There will be no train service on December 8 in the northern region.
Due to TransPennine Express on December 8th, there will be no train service.
Furthermore, not only will train services be disrupted on strike days, but also on neighboring days. These trains are expected to be overcrowded as passengers reschedule their trips to avoid the effects of the strike.
Can a day be considered the worst?
Unfortunately, Sunday, December 3rd will most likely be a hectic day for those attempting to travel from the north to the south. Due to the Aslef strike, the majority of services on the West Coast main line, connecting London Euston to the West Midlands, northwest England, North Wales, and southern Scotland, will be suspended.
For many, the usual backup option would be to take the LNER train on the East Coast main line. However, due to long-standing Network Rail maintenance, the section of the line south of St Neots in Cambridgeshire will be completely closed. To accommodate for this, buses will be provided for passengers traveling between St Neots and Bedford, where they would typically catch a Thameslink train to London. Unfortunately, these trains will not be running due to the Aslef strike.
Will every train experience some impact at any point?
On all strike days, passengers can anticipate regular service on ScotRail, Transport for Wales, and the following operators:
- Caledonian Sleeper
- Elizabeth Line
- Grand Central
- Hull Trains
- London Overground
- Transport for Wales
During periods of strike among rail companies providing similar services, trains are expected to be more congested.
In the event of a strike by GWR and Avanti West Coast, transport services for Newport, Cardiff, and Swansea, as well as Crewe and Manchester, operated by Transport for Wales may experience higher levels of activity.
Certain stations may have restrictions on boarding or leaving trains in order to prevent overcrowding.
What do I need in order to get to an airport?
The Elizabeth Line and Tube provide continuous access to London Heathrow. Despite the strike for Heathrow Express on December 7th, there will still be a limited service from 7am to 7pm.
London Gatwick passengers will face disruptions on two separate occasions. The first being on Sunday, December 3rd, when Thameslink train operators will go on strike. The second will be on Wednesday, December 6th, when Aslef members working for Gatwick Express and Southern will also strike. However, passengers travelling between London, Gatwick, and Brighton can still expect a decent number of trains in operation. These trains may be quite full, particularly during morning rush hour. It is important to note that there will be no Gatwick Express trains running at all.
On Tuesday 5 December, London Stansted will most likely have a limited service, while all other days during the overtime ban will experience “service alterations.”
You can reach Luton airport by train every day, including during strike days, from London. On the strike day of Saturday, December 2nd, when East Midlands Railway (EMR) is affected, you can take Thameslink instead. However, the next day, Thameslink will not be operating but EMR will be.
On Saturday, December 2nd, the only way to access Birmingham airport by rail is through Transport for Wales from Birmingham New Street.
On Sunday, December 3rd, Manchester airport can only be accessed by rail through Transport for Wales from Manchester Piccadilly, Chester, and North Wales.
Will the operations of Eurostar be impacted?
On strike days, connecting journeys may be challenging, but trains will still operate normally between London St Pancras International and Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam.
Are there any additional issues on the horizon?
Mick Whelan, the leader of Aslef, stated to The Independent that they are committed to the cause for however long it takes. He believes that this is a political conflict that may only be resolved with a change in leadership.
The majority of RMT members, who are part of the main rail union, have enthusiastically agreed to a 5 percent pay offer with no conditions attached. This will be followed by discussions at the local level, and there will be a guarantee of no additional strikes for the next six months.
What other options are available?
Long-distance bus companies such as National Express, Megabus, and FlixBus will continue to operate, but availability of seats is dwindling and prices are increasing.
Air travel prices for domestic flights connecting London airports, Bristol, Exeter, and Southampton to Newcastle, Edinburgh, and Glasgow are expected to rise during the scheduled strike days.