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The Aslef union, representing train drivers, has initiated a new phase of strikes in their ongoing and contentious disagreement with 14 train companies in England regarding salary and work policies.
The secretary, Mick Whelan, stated: “Our decision to go on strike is not to cause inconvenience for passengers, but to demonstrate our frustration with the government’s stubbornness and the lack of trust shown by our employers.”
Train operators are being asked by drivers to increase their pay without any conditions, and then engage in discussions at a community level to update their methods of work – an adjustment that will result in extra costs for the companies. Aslef reports that certain drivers have gone without a raise in salary for a period of five years.
The RDG, which represents train operators, states that any pay raise will depend on extensive reforms.
Any deal will be signed off by the Department for Transport (DfT). Taxpayers footing the bill – ticket revenue is about 20 per cent down on pre-Covid levels, with the subsidy for the railway running at £16,300 per minute – £4,000 more than before the pandemic.
The union has not engaged in discussions with the RDG since April, and has also not communicated with ministers since January.
A representative from the Department for Transport expressed disappointment that Aslef is choosing to disrupt the public and hospitality industries during the holiday season. Rather than striking, Aslef should consider following the example of other rail unions and allowing their members to vote on the proposed fair pay agreement.
A representative for the Rail Delivery Group stated that the strike initiated by the Aslef leadership is unnecessary and will unfortunately cause inconvenience to customers and businesses during the crucial holiday season.
Aslef is currently in conflict with the railway companies that have been hired by the government to offer train services. These companies include:
- Avanti West Coast
- East Midlands Railway
- Great Western Railway
- TransPennine Express
London commuter operators:
- Greater Anglia
- GTR (Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink)
The South Western Railway, which includes the Island Line on the Isle of Wight.
Operators with a focus on the Midlands and northern regions of England.
- Chiltern Railways
- Northern Trains
- West Midlands Railway
What is planned?
The nine-day ban on overtime has resulted in numerous cancellations between 1 and 9 December, including weekends.
Union members have planned strikes on various days between 2 and 8 December. With the exception of Monday 4 December, each day will focus on disrupting a different area of the country. As a result, numerous train companies have announced the cancellation of all services on the designated strike days.
According to Aslef, they have previously organized a strike where all members participated on the same day. However, this time, they have decided to spread out the strike action over the week, along with a ban on overtime, which their members voted for. This will have a greater impact on the rail industry.
What impact is the implementation of the overtime ban having?
The effect on individual train companies is determined by their reliance on overtime and the level of employee illnesses, which tends to be greater during the winter season compared to the summer.
Several operators have implemented significant preemptive cancellations in response to the overtime ban and to minimize disruptions on the day of travel. Passengers are advised that trains may be altered or cancelled with short notice.
Numerous trains were cancelled on the initial day, such as South Western Railway’s route from London Waterloo to Southampton, Great Western Railway’s line from London Paddington to Weston-super-Mare via Bristol and Carmarthen through Cardiff and Swansea, and various TransPennine Express connections from Manchester and Newcastle to Edinburgh. Additionally, several services between Manchester, Leeds, and Hull were also affected.
The rail companies that have declared preemptive cancellations are as follows:
Weekend service has been significantly reduced, with a decrease in the number of trains running on weekdays as well.
- Chiltern Railways has greatly reduced their service on many routes and some branch lines will not have any trains running. The company also announced that all routes will have earlier finishing times than usual. On December 1st, they issued a warning stating that they will not have any trains servicing the England (Lionesses) vs Netherlands event at Wembley Stadium. This means that there will be no trains stopping at Wembley Stadium for the entire day.
The Gatwick Express will not have trains running from December 1 to 9, except for Sunday, December 3 when a regular schedule will be in place. Southern trains will connect London Victoria and Gatwick airport during the strike.
The branch lines connecting Bletchley and Bedford, Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, and Leamington Spa and Nuneaton will be closed on most or all days by London Northwestern Railway and West Midlands Railway.
- Revised schedule with reduced number of trains will be in effect. Trains may have delayed start and early end times.
Thameslink cautions: “There will be a modified timetable with reduced frequency.”
When and where will the strikes occur?
Aslef union members who work as train drivers will be going on strike on specific days for specific train companies.
On Saturday, December 2nd, East Midlands Railway and LNER will be operating.
On December 3rd, the following train companies will be operating: Avanti West Coast, Chiltern, Great Northern, Thameslink, and West Midlands Trains.
On Monday, December 4th, there will be no strikes.
On Tuesday, December 5th, trains operated by C2C and Greater Anglia will be running.
On Wednesday, December 6th, the trains running on Southeastern, Southern/Gatwick Express, and South Western Railway will be operational.
- will not run
On Thursday, December 7th, there will be no CrossCountry or GWR train services.
On Friday, December 8th, the trains operating on the Northern and TransPennine lines will be running.
Both ScotRail and Transport for Wales are not participating in the conflict.
What will be the impact?
Using past knowledge, these are the probable consequences if drivers go on strike. Please verify closer to the date of travel for confirmation.
On December 2nd, East Midlands Railway will not be operating any trains. It is advised to avoid travel altogether as no bus services will be available as alternative transportation.
On December 2nd, LNER will have regular trains on main routes connecting London King’s Cross to Leeds, York, Newcastle, and Edinburgh.
Avanti West Coast will not have any trains running on December 3rd. Services will also be affected on the days immediately before and after the strike.
There will be no train service in Chiltern on December 3.
There will be no trains running on West Midlands Railway on December 3rd.
On December 3rd, there will be no train services available on the Great Northern line.
There will be no trains running on Thameslink on December 3rd.
On December 5th, there will be no train services available for C2C.
On December 5th, Greater Anglia will have a restricted schedule for trains connecting London Liverpool Street to Norwich, Ipswich, and Colchester, as well as Southend Victoria, Cambridge, and Stansted airport.
There will be no trains running on December 6th on the Southeastern line.
On December 6th, there will be no train service except for a direct shuttle between London Victoria and Gatwick airport. The service will run from 6am to 11:30am.
On December 6th, the Gatwick Express service will not be running. Instead, the Southern airport shuttle will provide transportation.
On December 6th, South Western Railway will provide a main service of four trains per hour from London Waterloo to Woking. One train per hour will continue on to both Guildford and Basingstoke. Additionally, there will be a shuttle from Basingstoke to Salisbury. Trains will also operate between Waterloo and Feltham, passing through Richmond and Twickenham.
There will be no train service on December 7th. Due to the strike on December 8th, services may begin later than usual.
GWR (7 December): A primary route will operate between London Paddington and Oxford, Bath, and Bristol, with a connection from Bristol to Cardiff. There will be a reduced service on branch lines in Devon and Cornwall. The Night Riviera sleeper service from London to Penzance will not be available until Friday 6 October.
On December 7th, the Heathrow Express will have a limited schedule from 7am to 7pm.
On December 8th, there will be no train service.
There will be no train services on TransPennine Express on December 8th.
Furthermore, not only will there be disruptions on strike days, but trains on neighboring days may also experience delays. These trains are expected to be heavily crowded as passengers may rearrange their travel plans to avoid the industrial action.
Does the concept of a “worst day” exist?
Yes. Sunday 3 December is likely to be chaotic for anyone trying to travel north-south. Almost all services on the West Coast main line, which connects London Euston with the West Midlands, northwest England, North Wales and southern Scotland, will be halted by the day’s Aslef strike.
The usual choice for most people would be to take the LNER train on the East Coast main line. However, scheduled Network Rail maintenance will result in the line being shut down below St Neots in Cambridgeshire. As a substitute, buses will be available between St Neots and Bedford, where travelers would typically transfer to a frequent Thameslink train bound for London. Unfortunately, this service will not be in operation due to the Aslef strike.
Will every train experience an impact at any point?
There will be no disruptions on ScotRail, Transport for Wales, and other operators on the days of the strike. Passengers can expect regular service.
- Caledonian Sleeper
- Elizabeth Line
- Grand Central
- Hull Trains
- London Overground
- Transport for Wales
During periods of strike action by competing rail companies, trains are expected to be more heavily populated.
One possible scenario is that there may be increased demand for Transport for Wales routes connecting Newport, Cardiff, and Swansea, as well as for routes between Crewe and Manchester, while GWR and Avanti West Coast are experiencing a strike.
Certain train stations may limit passenger boarding or exiting in order to prevent overcrowding.
What do I need to get to an airport?
The Elizabeth Line and the Tube provide continuous access to London Heathrow. Despite the Heathrow Express strike on December 7th, there will still be limited service from 7am to 7pm.
Passengers traveling through London Gatwick will be affected on two occasions: first, on Sunday, December 3, when Thameslink train conductors go on strike, and again on Wednesday, December 6, when Aslef employees of Gatwick Express and Southern follow suit. However, commuters between London, Gatwick, and Brighton can still expect a decent number of trains to operate, although they may be extremely busy, particularly during peak morning hours. There will be no services available on Gatwick Express trains during this time.
It is expected that London Stansted will have limited service on Tuesday, December 5th, and there will be changes to the service on the other days affected by the overtime ban.
Luton airport can be reached by train from London every day, even on days when there are strikes. On Saturday, December 2nd, when East Midlands Railway (EMR) is on strike, passengers can use Thameslink. However, on the following day, Thameslink will not be in service but EMR will be running as usual.
On Saturday, December 2nd, the only way to access Birmingham airport by rail is through Transport for Wales from Birmingham New Street. The airport is not reachable by any other train service.
On Sunday, December 3rd, the only train service available at Manchester airport is through Transport for Wales from Manchester Piccadilly, Chester, and North Wales.
Is Eurostar going to be impacted?
On days of strike, there may be challenges in making connecting journeys, but there will be no disruptions to normal train service between London St Pancras International and Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam.
Is there any potential issue in the future?
The general secretary of Aslef, Mick Whelan, stated to The Independent that they are committed to the cause until it is resolved. He believes it is a political matter that may only be resolved with a change in government.
The majority of RMT, the primary rail union, have approved a 5% pay increase with no conditions attached, and will engage in discussions at a local level with the guarantee of no additional strikes for six months.
What are the other options?
As usual, long-distance bus companies – National Express, Megabus and FlixBus – will continue to operate, but seats are becoming limited and ticket prices are increasing.
Flights within the UK from London, Bristol, Exeter, and Southampton to Newcastle, Edinburgh, and Glasgow will see a rise in prices during the scheduled strike days.