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Train drivers’ strike brings fresh misery to rail passengers

Southeastern trains in sidings near Ashford railway station in Kent as members of the drivers union Aslef at seven train operators walk out for 24 hours over pay (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Southeastern trains in sidings near Ashford railway station in Kent as members of the drivers union Aslef at seven train operators walk out for 24 hours over pay (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Rail passengers suffered fresh travel misery on Saturday when thousands of train drivers staged the latest strike in worsening disputes in the industry.

Members of Aslef in seven train companies walked out for 24 hours, crippling services in many parts of the country.

Football fans travelling to the opening Saturday of English leagues, and people going to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham were among those affected.

Strike action will be stepped up next month with a series of stoppages in the bitter row over jobs, pay and conditions.

Picket lines were mounted outside railway stations on Saturday, with Aslef saying they were receiving strong public support despite the disruption the strike was causing.

Relations between the Government and rail unions have worsened after Mick Whelan, general secretary Aslef accused the Transport Secretary of “lying” about negotiations over strikes.

Grant Shapps had written in The Times: “The ‘Two Micks’, Lynch of the RMT and Whelan of Aslef, are taking the taxpayer for a ride, but not in the way they are meant to.

“RMT is stalling on reform and Aslef is dragging its feet in negotiations while both call more strikes. Enough.”

In response, Mr Whelan told Times Radio on Saturday morning: “I say Mr Shapps is lying, quite simply, quite clearly.

“We’re not dragging our feet in negotiations, we negotiate with 14 private companies, we do not work for the Government or the DfT (Department for Transport).”

He added: “I would like Mr Shapps to get us out of this catch-22 situation that he misrepresents at every opportunity.”

The Department of Transport said: “It’s extremely misleading to suggest the Transport Secretary should get involved in these negotiations. His role is to protect the public purse, ensuring value for money for the hard-working people of this country.

“As such, he’s required to set the limits of taxpayer support and ultimately sign off on any deal, not to be involved in negotiating one, and his contracts with operators allow him to do precisely that.

“The union knows full well that negotiations over pay and working practices don’t happen with the Government, they happen with the employers of the people they represent.

“We once again urge union representatives to get back round the negotiating table.”

The strike is hitting Arriva Rail London, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains.

Rail strikes
Passengers at Birmingham New Street Station (Jacob King/PA)

With trains cancelled around the country there was some disruption on roads.
The AA said the M4/M5 interchange west of Bristol is “growing with traffic”, while there were more cars on the road on the M5 heading south to Exeter.

Several incidents have meant congestion is building throughout the country including; the M25/M11 interchange, M1 Northampton, M8 and Queensferry Crossing into Edinburgh, motorways surrounding Leeds and Bradford and the M42 east of Birmingham.

Steve Montgomery, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We’re really disappointed that the Aslef leadership has decided to impose yet more uncertainty and disruption for passengers and businesses in a week which has already seen a strike by the RMT.

“Millions of passengers will have their weekend plans disrupted, particularly those who are working, or going to the Commonwealth Games or the first football match of the season.

“While we will do all that we can to minimise disruption, if you are going to travel on the routes affected, please plan ahead and check the latest travel advice.

“If you’re not able to travel, you can use your ticket either the day before or up to and including August 2, otherwise you will be able to change your ticket or claim a refund.

“Like any service or business, we must move with the times and cannot continue to ask taxpayers or passengers for more money when we should instead respond to the huge changes in travel behaviour post Covid.

“By making these necessary reforms such ending the reliance on volunteer working at weekend, we improve punctuality, have more resilient Sunday services and use those savings to give our people a pay rise which has always been what we want to do.”