The last day in the latest stretch of railway strikes has begun, ending a run of almost four weeks of continuous disruption caused by industrial action over pay and working conditions.
Only about one in five trains across Great Britain will run on Saturday as a 48-hour walkout by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union concludes, with no early morning or evening services and a pared-back schedule on main intercity and urban lines.
Much of Wales, Scotland and rural England will have no trains running, with thousands of signallers at Network Rail, as well as train crew, going on strike.
Passengers have been advised to avoid taking trains, and to continue to check for updates in case of further cancellations should they attempt to travel by rail.
Services should be restored by early afternoon on Sunday on most lines, although some operators have warned that it will take all weekend to fully return to normal. No trains will run from London King’s Cross until Monday due to engineering works.
Union leaders and rail bosses will meet the rail minister, Huw Merriman, on Monday to restart talks to resolve the long-running dispute.
The RMT rejected separate pay offers from Network Rail and train operators in December, heralding a period of 10 strike days and an ongoing overtime ban for train staff, which ended this week.
No further strikes are scheduled by the union, nor by the train drivers union Aslef, whose members also went on strike this week, holding a 24-hour stoppage on Thursday.
The Department for Transport said on Friday afternoon that train operators had sent a written offer to the Aslef union of an 8% pay rise over two years to train drivers – a 4% rise backdated for 2022 and a further 4% from January 2023. However, the proposal would oblige drivers to work Sundays, among other changes to working practices.
Steve Montgomery, the chair of the Rail Delivery Group, said it was a “fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for train drivers while bringing in common-sense and long-overdue reforms”. The RDG said it would take the average train driver salary to almost £65,000.
Aslef said on Friday evening it had yet to receive the offer. Earlier this week, the union’s general secretary, Mick Whelan, told the Guardian that any offer demanding significant workplace reform while not matching inflation would most likely be rejected by members.
The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, admitted on Friday that public support for rail unions had been dented by weeks of strikes. But he said the government was “losing the argument” in the long-running pay dispute, with moves by Rishi Sunak to tighten anti-strike laws showing the government was simply hoping to close down opposition to austerity.
Network Rail has estimated that the total cost of the strikes so far in lost revenue to the industry has now passed £400m.