The leader of the biggest rail workers’ union has accused the Government of preventing a settlement to the long-running dispute over jobs, pay and conditions, which is causing fresh travel disruption on Saturday.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union walked out for the day, leading to the widespread cancellation of train services.
Controversial plans to close most ticket offices have worsened the dispute.
There were picket lines outside railway stations across England on Saturday.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the decision to close ticket offices will only save about £89 million – a “tiny fraction” of the £1 billion he claims has been spent by the Government to “artificially keep the dispute going and prevent a settlement”.
He said: “The public is being ripped off not only to financially underwrite this dispute that could have been settled 18 months ago, but also to fund the closure of ticket offices which they rely on.
“Closing 1,000 ticket offices will only save a small fraction of the money spent on rail company indemnity, to prolong the strike and the handsome profits they have made.
“Ticket office closures are not popular with the public and we have seen mass opposition across the country.
“Not only are ticket office closures being used as a fig leaf for the wholesale de-staffing of stations, but this is the thin end of the wedge for getting rid of staff across the railway network, something our union will oppose vigorously.
“The elderly, vulnerable and disabled will no longer want to and in some cases be unable to use the railway because trained and friendly staff are waiting to assist them.
“Our union remains wholly committed to reaching a negotiated settlement on pay, jobs, security and conditions.
“But our members remain steadfast in their industrial action and will not be cowed into submission by anyone.”
Passengers were advised to check their travel arrangements as the strike will see wide variations in services across the country, with trains starting later and finishing much earlier than usual.
In some areas only about half of train services will run, while others will have no services at all.
A Rail Delivery Group spokesman said the strike would disrupt the plans of families during the summer holidays.
“This will lead to disappointment, frustration, and financial strain for tens of thousands of people.
“We apologise for the inconvenience caused and understand the impact on individuals and businesses.
“Our advice is to check before you travel.”
Louise Haigh, shadow transport secretary, has written to Transport Secretary Mark Harper, telling him to “get back to work” and sit down with rail unions and operators to end the strikes.
Labour said the transport secretary has not met either of the two rail unions at the centre of the rail strikes since before Christmas last year.
Ms Haigh said: “The fact that Mark Harper has refused to do his job whilst the British public have faced over a year of rail chaos is unacceptable.
“The very least we should expect from the transport secretary is to sit down with the unions and rail operators, to try and reach an agreement to end these strikes for good.
“The fact he has failed to do even that means we can safely add the transport secretary to the list of things that do not work in Britain any more.”
Press Association – Alan Jones