Businesses warn of "significant damage" to economy from walkouts as this week's mass rail strikes get underway

 
Rebecca Smith
Passengers across five train operators face disruption during walkouts
Passengers across five train operators face disruption during walkouts (Source: Getty)

Businesses have voiced concerns that this week's mass rail strikes will cause "significant damage" to the economy, as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union stage walkouts across five train companies.

Southern rail, Greater Anglia, South Western Railway, Northern and Merseyrail will be affected over the course of today and tomorrow by industrial action. The walkouts are over a fierce row regarding the role of the guard and so-called driver-only operated trains; a dispute spreading to an increasing number of train operators.

Read more: What you need to know about this week's mass rail strikes

Research out today from YouGov for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train firms and Network Rail, has found that almost three-quarters of 1,007 business decision-makers surveyed think the strikes will harm the economy. Nearly a third were concerned the walkouts will directly harm their business.

David Leam, infrastructure director at business group London First, said the two days of disruption this week will likely cost London "tens of millions" though it is difficult to ascertain to what extent businesses will be affected.

He did though, warn of the additional "reputational hit" as a concern at a time when the capital needs to show it remains an appealing place to live and work.

"We're desperately trying to promote ourselves as open to business," Leam said. Strikes making it hard to get around will be a "very visible" sign that things are not working as they should.

Policy director of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sean McKee, said: “We know from bitter experience that rail strikes, can cause significant damage to the economy, in terms of staff delays, meeting cancellations and people choosing not to come into central London to do their Christmas shopping or enjoy all the entertainment central London has during the festive period."

Hundreds of thousands of commuters are set to be affected by the strikes, with those in the London and South East to face disruption over 48 hours, with walkouts on Southern, Greater Anglia and South Western planned across Wednesday and Thursday.

RMT members on Northern and Merseyrail have been instructed to walkout for 24 hours on Wednesday.

Leam added that strikes will be "hugely disruptive, not just to businesses, but to employees and their families who struggle to get to work, or just get their daily tasks done".

Southern said it will operate a limited service on some routes, but it is aiming for "business as usual" across most, while South Western plans to run around two-thirds of its train services. There will be bus replacements and reduced services on others. Greater Anglia is hoping to run a full service.

The RDG said several train companies had redeployed staff to other roles, while rescheduling timetables to keep as many trains moving as possible, though affected passengers are being urged to check before they travel.

The RMT though, has said the strikes "are about safety, pure and simple".

The union's general secretary Mick Cash said yesterday: "RMT's fight to keep the guards is about protecting the safety, security and access to rail services of the travelling public against an all-out drive to ramp up profits, which are then shipped across the Channel."

Read more: DfT mulls split of Southern rail owner Govia Thameslink Railway

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