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Much-needed rail strikes

Greg Devine


Train station railway in london

I appreciate I mention transport a lot, but I really do believe that, without good transport links and a strong infrastructure, we’ll struggle to have a working and prosperous economy. Whilst rail strikes cause turbulence across the entire network, this is necessary for many reasons.

This week’s rail strike is set to be the biggest in thirty years, with approximately 80% of services cancelled—but why are those working on the railways going on strike? The Rail Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union has finally had enough of stagnating pay and a lack of investment in the rail network, which is leading to job losses. The RMT held negotiations with Network Rail, who are responsible for the maintenance of the tracks and larger stations—so far, however, they’ve failed to come to any form of resolution.

RMT logo

RMT logo

The RMT subsequently called on the government for ministerial intervention. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, branded the calls ‘a stunt’ and claimed union bosses were ‘gunning for’ industrial action.

As talks have proved less than fruitful, Network Rail employees, as well as staff from thirteen train operators, are taking action. This includes station staff, staff operating on the trains and, perhaps most significantly, the signallers.

Action taken by the signallers will most likely have the greatest impact. It’s the job of signallers to make sure trains keep moving smoothly and that they reach their destination. It’s very similar to the role of air traffic controllers. Their absence could lead to complete line closures in some rural areas.

Walkouts are expected to take place on the 21st, 23rd and 25th of June, with a special timetable in place from Monday 20th. Strike action is also expected to take place on the tube where most trains will only run between 7:30am and 6:30pm, which leaves only a small window in which commuters can make their way home, especially when you consider the possibility of delays and cancellations.

Most operators are advising passengers not to travel on strike days, and some have even gone as far as recommending people refrain from travelling for the whole week.

Empty Metropolitan train tube and seats during Coronavirus pandemic outbreak, London, UK

Empty Metropolitan train tube and seats during Coronavirus pandemic outbreak, London, UK

Passengers of each operator will be affected differently, so it’s recommended that people check before they travel. For example, LNER will be running significantly more services than other providers, though this will still be nowhere near its usual timetable. Northern, which inflicts cancellations and delays under normal circumstances, advises passengers not to travel at all, given that there will be very limited services around major cities. The tube strike means the underground will be shut completely on Tuesday 21st June.

The scale of this strike and the huge disruption it’s going to cause should surely see some positive action. The government cannot afford for the railways to be affected for a whole week, never mind the months the RMT has warned, should an agreement not be reached. Employees want a pay rise to finally bring their income to the current level of inflation. Offers made in negotiations so far have not met this level and therefore still represent a net pay decrease.

The Government abandoned the railways a long time ago. The Conservative’s privatisation plan has been a complete disaster. Once, our railways were a source of immense pride for Britain, with extensive networks and rolling stock that was innovative and state of the art. These days, the network is old and decrepit in most areas. Only HS1, between London and the Chanel Tunnel, could be considered highspeed in modern standards.

Where British Rail once made the most of rolling stock, it now belongs to foreign companies. Whilst some parts are still manufactured in the UK, this is nowhere near the same level British Rail achieved, pre-privatisation.

Where privatisation has been reversed and services have returned to government control, passenger satisfaction has increased. LNER has one of the best customer satisfaction scores; it also has the most services running during these strikes, which is no coincidence as one of the few non-privatised operators currently active.

The strikes will cause huge disruption, but the reasoning behind them is quite valid. Rail workers shouldn’t be left to decay in the same manner as the infrastructure around them.

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