Rail Strikes: Everything You Need To Know About The Biggest Walkout For 33 Years

A standoff between rail workers and operators is expected to bring the country to a standstill next week.
Rail strikes are set to take place across the UK on June 21, 23 and 25
Rail strikes are set to take place across the UK on June 21, 23 and 25
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The largest rail strike in more than three decades is set to take place next week, as industrial action has threatened to “shut down the country’s railway network”.

With 13 operators and approximately 50,000 members of the RMT union expected to walk out, it has been described as the “biggest outbreak of industrial action in the UK since 1989”.

As up to 80% of passenger services could be cancelled, here’s what you need to know.

When is the strike?

The action will take place on Tuesday 21, Thursday 23 and Saturday 25 June – each lasting 24 hours – although the delays on these days will likely have a domino effect on the following week of travel.

The first date, in just under two weeks’ time, will see up to 50,000 Network rail workers, train operators and London underground walk out.

For June 23 and 25, around 40,000 rail operators will strike, but not the London Underground.

It remains unclear if signallers will join the action – if they choose to, the travel situation could worsen as these roles are much harder to find cover for.

Where will it happen?

A total of 13 operators on the national network will be impacted, across England, Scotland and Wales.

1. Avanti West coast

2. Chiltern Railways

3. Cross Country Trains

4. c2c

5. East Midlands Railway

6. Greater Anglia

7. Great Western Railway


9. Northern Trains

10. South Eastern

11. South Western Railway

12. TransPennine Express

13. West Midlands Trains

Who will this affect?

Several key summer events will be impacted by these major travel delays, as the BBC predicts around a fifth of mainline rail services will still be operating.

Glastonbury, where more than 200,000 people travel for the live music festival, Summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge, will both be affected by the major hold-ups on June 21.

Then on on June 23, the England v New Zealand test match in cricket is scheduled to take place in Leeds, and the British Athletics Championships start on June 24 the following day.

Exam season will be underway at this time too, meaning students could struggle to reach any necessary venues.

Freight trains which transport critical goods and materials may be impacted as well, subsequently holding up UK supply chains, consumers and businesses.

It might even impact energy sources which are sent to UK power plants on freight trains. The UK’s energy bills have already soared due to a range of other complicated issues triggered by fuel shortages and the Ukraine war.

The CEO of GB Railfreight, John Smith, told the i newspaper: “Ministers must prioritise freight during these strikes to ensure the impact on supply chains across the UK and the wider economy are limited as much as possible.”

The strikes are also expected to cost Network Rail around £30 million a day.

Why is this happening?

This is not the first time rail strike action has hit the news in recent weeks, but it is expected to be the largest for 33 years.

RMT claims it has been in a standoff with Network Rail and train operating companies for two years – during which several smaller strikes have occurred – over proposed “multi-year pay freezes” and planned job cuts.

While the two sides have been in “intense” negotiations, no solution has yet been agreed. Then, in May, 71% of union members backed a walkout.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch claimed: “Railway workers have been treated appallingly, and despite our best efforts in negotiations, the rail industry with the support of the government has failed to take their concerns seriously.

“We have a cost of living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze when inflation is at 11.1% and rising.”

Blaming operators for not sharing their profits with workers, he continued: “They are ripping off the passenger, they are ripping off the taxpayer. The government needs to fund the railway properly and we need the companies to give up some of their profits to give our members a pay rise.”

He also alleged that passenger numbers are recovering, even though more people are working from home since the pandemic began two years ago.

Lynch said Network Rail told union reps they were going to cut 3,000 maintenance jobs out of 11,000, a move which could cause safety risks, although Network Rail said no such proposals were ahead.

He also said that rail companies were making at least £500m a year, an “unfairness” which is “fuelling our members anger”.

He told the BBC that it was possible for members to get a pay rise, it will just mean the networks “have to cut back on their profits”.

The London Underground strike is over slightly different reasons, including pensions and job losses.

What have the networks said?

Network Rail said it has no plans to cut maintenance jobs, but that talks were under way to modernise maintenance and avoid compulsory redundancies.

It also claimed it was still meeting unions to discuss pay.

Chief executive Andrew Haines said: “We know that the cost of living has increased and we want to give our people a pay rise, but the RMT must recognise we are a public body and any pay increase has to be affordable for taxpayers and passengers.”

Chair of the Rail Delivery Group, Steve Montgomery, also claimed he was “extremely disappointed” at the thought of the possible strike and pushed for further negotiations.

He said the industry did receive £16 billion in subsidies over the pandemic but that level of funding could not continue.

The Rail Delivery Group even claimed RMT was “using inflated figures made up of smoke and mirrors to disguise the real issue”, alleging revenues are currently at 82% of 2019 levels – meaning there is still at £38m weekly shortfall.

What has the government said?

Transport secretary Grant Shapps described the move as “incredibly disappointing” and said unions are “jumping the gun” by announcing the strike when talks have just started.

He promised that his department is working with the industry to “reduce disruption”, but that the action could “drive passengers away from the rail network for good”.

Shapps said Covid has “changed travel habits” with 25% fewer ticket sales.

He claimed the taxpayer forked out the equivalent of £600 per household to keep the railways running through the £16 billion subsidiaries, concluding: “We must act now to put the industry on a sustainable footing.”

The Department for Transport also alleged that the average salary rail worker in £44,000 – more than the median pay of other public sector workers – teachers receive £37,00, care workers £17,000 and nurses £31,000.

Meanwhile, a source from No.10 described the planned action as “thoroughly irresponsible”.

RMT responded, saying the government were “experts at being selfish and irresponsible”, and that its members needed a pay deal, job security and “decent terms and conditions”.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus said more talks were essential to give passengers certainty.


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