Train passengers have been hit with another wave of 48-hour strikes in the run up to Christmas.
Rail union leaders have extinguished hopes of calling off planned walkouts, after “intensive talks” failed to break the deadlock in an industrial dispute that prevented overdue reforms to Britain’s railways. Trains will stop running between 2am on the strike day to 2am on the following day, causing two days of disruption.
It had been hoped that through negotiations, critical changes to working practices could be agreed upon. Changes that would save money and allow the wider rail industry to balance the books in the post-Covid world.
But hopes of a truce were dashed when the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) announced its 40,000 members will walk out over eight days – the biggest strikes to date in the dispute – effectively crippling the rail network for the best part of a week before Christmas and another week in the New Year.
Taking into account scheduled engineering works and further regional strike action between Christmas and New Year, some lines will be largely out of service for the best part of a month from the middle of December.
What dates are the train strikes in December and January?
Nationwide RMT strikes
- Tuesday December 13th
- Wednesday December 14
- Friday December 16th
- Saturday December 17
- Tuesday January 3
- Wednesday January 4
- Friday January 6
- Saturday January 7
On strike days, it is expected that just one in five trains will run and nearly all operators will be impacted.
On the days following a strike – so-called “shoulder days” – the schedule will be roughly 60pc of normal.
There is also a new overtime and rest day working ban. The railways typically work on the assumption that staff will work overtime and on rest days. A union ban on this could cause further havoc. Train bosses are assessing the impact and will adjust the schedule accordingly.
There are also a series of further regional rail strikes on other dates in December:
- Friday December 2 – Unite strike impacting East Midlands Railways
- Saturday December 3 – Unite strike impacting East Midlands Railways
- Sunday 11 December – RMT Avanti West Coast strike
- Monday 12 December – RMT Avanti West Coast strike
- Friday December 23 – Unite strike impacting East Midlands Railways
- Saturday December 24 – Unite strike impacting East Midlands Railways
Avanti has said it expects its services to be significantly reduced on 11/12 December due to industrial action. East Midlands Railway has warned services will be extremely limited with last departures by 4.30pm on strike days.
Which train operators are affected?
Nearly every train line will be impacted in some way.
The strikes are by RMT members at Network Rail and across 13 train operators.
- Northern trains
- Avanti West Coast
- Cross Country
- Chiltern Railways
- Hull Trains
- Greater Anglia
- Govia Thameslink (plus Gatwick Express)
- London Underground
- West Midlands Trains (plus London Northwestern Railway)
- Great Western Railway
- Transpennine Express
The action against the operators is overshadowed by the walkouts at Network Rail – and in particular by signal workers.
Network Rail has reserves of trained signal workers, but only enough to allow 20pc of normal capacity to run.
Avanti West Coast and East Midlands Railways will also be impacted by additional strike action in December.
Eurostar strikes to impact holidays
Security staff at Eurostar will go on strike later this month in a dispute over pay, potentially disrupting festive holiday plans.
The members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union have rejected a below inflation pay offer and will walk out on December 16,18, 22 and 23.
The strike action will severely affect Eurostar services and travel plans for people over the December period.
Can I get a refund if my train is cancelled?
Rail chiefs are still assessing what the policy will be and will make an announcement closer to the time. Previously, customers had been able to use pre-booked tickets a day early, or claim a refund if they were due to travel on the day of the strike.
Customers with season tickets have previously been able to claim compensation through the delayed repay scheme, while return tickets may be eligible for a 50pc refund if you cannot make part of your journey. Customers need to claim for refunds within 28 days.
National Rail’s website states: “If you purchased an advance, off-peak or anytime ticket and choose not to travel at all because your service on either your outward or return journey has been canceled, delayed or rescheduled then you will be entitled to a refund or change from the original retailer of your ticket.”
On the Avanti West Coast strikes, customers can use tickets dated on 11 or 12 December at any time between today and December 14. They can also claim a refund if they are due to travel on Sunday 11, Monday 12 or Tuesday 13 of December.
Why are rail workers striking?
Unions are demanding pay rises for their members who are battling soaring inflation.
For RMT, Network Rail has offered an 8pc rise, spread over two years. Train operators are yet to get around to discussing pay rises, first, they want to come to an agreement on sweeping reforms to working practices.
Changes to what have been branded “archaic” working practices are the most contentious issue in the dispute.
Traveling habits have changed following the pandemic. Fewer people commute to work every day. More people are traveling on off-peak trains, after the morning rush hour or on weekends. The demand for business travel is stubbornly much lower than it was before Covid hit.
This means Network Rail and the train operators, whose costs are ultimately borne by taxpayers, must cut costs to balance the books. Part of this can be done by reducing staff numbers. But a large part of it is changing working practices, many of which are a legacy of the days of British Rail and public ownership.
Bosses what to introduce more technology, run teams more efficiently, and end parts of the railway operating in their own silos.
Unions fear this means job cuts are on the cards – and by extension, their power will be weakened.
Royal Mail workers have also planned a series of walkouts that could disrupt Christmas deliveries. Read what dates the strikes are being held as well as last Christmas posting details.