Rail strikes: when are they and how bad will the disruption be?

What we know about the RMT strikes in late June and why they are happening

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has called three 24-hour strikes in a week in late June.

When and where exactly are the strikes?

The three strike days are Tuesday 21 June, Thursday 23 June and Saturday 25 June. RMT members will strike at Network Rail and 13 English train companies: Chiltern, Cross Country, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands, c2c, Great Western, Northern, South Eastern, South Western, TransPennine, Avanti West Coast and West Midlands.

Because Network Rail staff – including signallers, who are crucial to the daily operation – work across Britain, the walkouts will affect Scotland and Wales, too.

In a separate but parallel dispute, RMT members on the London Underground will also strike on 21 June.

How bad will the disruption be?

Some trains will continue to run in bigger conurbations, but only for a limited time. Network Rail and train companies are drawing up a contingency timetable. The broad expectation is that a few trains will run on the main lines and into cities between 7am and 7pm on strike days – roughly 20% of the service.

Because the strikes stop all shifts starting in each 24-hour period, much overnight work – including maintenance and returning trains to depots – will also not take place, meaning a later start and fewer services on Wednesday and Friday, too. Monday’s services may also be curtailed earlier, and Sunday’s start later, in effect meaning disruption over seven days.

The Tuesday Tube strike will be London-wide, with all 10,000 RMT members striking. That means the full-scale closures seen in March, rather than the major disruption in central London brought by the station staff strike this week.

Who might be able to travel and why?

In general, main lines will stay open, but with few trains; rural and branch lines are likely to be shut, and a skeleton daytime service will run into conurbations.

The one big train firm that has not voted to strike is GTR, whose Thameslink trains also rely on highly automated signalling to cross central London, but its services will still be severely disrupted.

What about my ticket if I can’t travel?

The industry has promised it will be flexible. Refunds are due if services do not run. Some train companies will offer automatic refunds to season ticket holders, or for cancelled journeys booked by credit card.

Advance tickets are no longer on sale. Passengers with advance tickets will be able to use them the day before or up to two days after any action – but it is not clear yet whether that will cover the whole period, given the expected service levels on the non-strike days.

Passengers holding advance tickets may want to retain them for now or risk paying full price for journeys later. Current latest advice can be found on the National Rail website, but passengers should check with their operator nearer the time.

Will the strikes definitely go ahead?

Industry leaders and unions have both said they are open to further talks – and will be holding more this week. However, talks over the future of the railway have been going on for more than a year, and there has been little progress. It is difficult to see an obvious solution.

What are the strikes about anyway?

Job security and pay. The government has told the railway to reduce costs by about 10% after finances were upended by the pandemic. A £4bn annual taxpayer subsidy became roughly £12bn in Covid years and the Treasury has said rail subsidy must be slashed.

Network Rail, the state-owned company that runs the infrastructure, wants to save at least £100m a year through “workplace reform”, which the RMT says will mean widespread job cuts. Unions also expect train operating companies to close ticket offices.

Any pay offers are expected to be far below inflation, with many staff not having had an increase during the pandemic.

What is the government’s idea about minimum service levels during strikes?

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has suggested that laws could be enacted to ensure “minimum service levels”, as per the Conservative manifesto. The chair of the Commons transport committee, Huw Merriman, urged the government to press ahead, possibly requiring a guaranteed number of working staff or running trains.

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However, Downing Street has indicated it will not be coming soon. The impact would be questionable, and introducing it could rally more union opposition by threatening the right to strike.

Are train drivers on strike?

No. But the union representing most drivers has balloted some companies for action, and could completely stop trains if it launched a strike. It is unlikely to do so, bar a total pay freeze. The TSSA, which represents more of the middle management, has said it is considering a ballot – and if it eventually joined in, it could make even the contingency plans unviable.

•This article was amended on 9 June 2022 to clarify that GTR services are likely to be disrupted even though its workers are not on strike


Gwyn Topham

The GuardianTramp

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