The biggest rail strike in decades threatens to grind the the network to a halt today, forcing Brits to make other plans travelling across the country this weekend.
More than 50,000 workers across four unions have initiated a 24-hour walkout across the rail network, escalating a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
It means only 11 per cent of usual train services will run, with large areas of the UK having no services operating at all.
Some companies, including Northern, Avanti West Coast and Southeastern are not running any trains for the whole of Saturday.
This includes no direct services on routes between London and major cities such as Brighton, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester and Newcastle.
It is the first time the rail unions – RMT, Aslef, Unite and the TSSA – have all walked out on the same day.
This follows consistent industrial action since 21 June, with RMT engaging in six nationwide strike days over the past three months.
The strike was initially planned for last month, but was called off for the mourning period after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
The unions have since warned there is little progress in resolving disputes, with rail bosses wanting any increases in pay to be linked to modernising the rail network.
Rail bosses have repeatedly said they do want to provider workers with a pay rise, but have argued post-pandemic travel patterns have changed.
The industry believes reforms are necessary to prevent taxpayers or fare-payers having to put in more money.
Network Rail, which maintains the tracks and signalling systems, wants to changes to how its maintenance teams work – raising the prospect of job losses.
There is growing pressure to save money following two years of Covid-19 disruption, when the government effectively took control of the railway, and billions of taxpayers’ money was poured in to keep services going.
Rail strikes expose lack of breakthroughs
The RMT rejected a latest pay offer of four per cent in the first year, plus another four per cent in the second year, conditional on reforms.
Other benefits like discounted rail travel were included, although increased pay remains below current rates of inflation.
National Rail’s chief executive Andrew Haines told the BBC he thought it was a “decent package” and that there was a balance needed between protecting jobs and ensuring the growth of the railway system.
The disruption is expected to hit people competing in the London Marathon this weekend, one of the UK’s major charity fundraising events.
It will also inconvenience football fans travelling to games across the country, and people attending the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch apologised for the disruption, but argued the strikes were necessary to protect the livelihoods of its members.
He said: “Absolutely. We don’t want to inconvenience the public and we’re really sorry that that’s happening. But the Government has brought this dispute on. They (put) the challenges down to us, to cut our jobs, to cut our pensions and to cut our wages against inflation.”
Most services on Sunday will start later than usual following Saturday’s disruption, however London Marathon said Southeastern trains would get passengers to the start line on time.
Further strikes are planned next week on Wednesday 5 October and Saturday 8 October, involving Aslef and RMT members.