Thousands of trains canceled as UK’s biggest worker strike in 30 years begins

Thousands of trains canceled as UK’s biggest worker strike in 30 years begins

Train passengers in the UK face widespread cancellations and disruptions as a nationwide rail strike begins on Tuesday.

More than 40,000 employees have quit because of wages, future job losses and working conditions. Members of the Ferroviário, Marítimo e Transportes (RMT) union in Rede Ferroviária and 13 train operators are on strike on June 21, 23 and 25.

Half of Britain’s rail lines will be closed on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Only around 4,500 of the 20,000 regular daily rail services in the UK are expected to operate during the strike. Those running will be mostly on the main lines, but will be open between 7:30am and 6:30pm.

It left much of Britain, including Scotland, Wales and all of Cornwall and Dorset, with few daytime passenger trains.

London Underground workers are also carrying out a 24-hour shutdown on Tuesday, with nearly the entire network brought to a halt. All metro lines are currently fully or partially suspended with buses, the DLR and tram services are the only public transport currently unaffected.

Transport for London has advised passengers to avoid travel and complete their journey before 6pm if they need to take a trip.

The disruption is expected to continue throughout the week – even on non-strike days. Even the railway companies whose employees do not participate in the action are predicting delays with the participation of the flags from Network Rail, the company that maintains the system.

Photo AP/Matt Dunham

A sign shows the station’s opening hours during this week’s industrial action at London’s Waterloo railway station on Tuesday 21 June. – Photo AP/Matt Dunham

ONE severely reduced hours has already been published showing the reduced service and passengers were urged not to travel by train this week.

Drivers are also being warned to expect an increase in traffic as large parts of the rail network are at a standstill and passengers find other ways to travel. The British motoring association, the AA, says the roads most affected will be major highways, as well as rural and suburban areas.

This comes as thousands of people are due to travel to the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England, which starts on Wednesday.

Have the trains to Glastonbury Festival been cancelled?

After being forced to cancel twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Glastonbury is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week. It’s the UK’s biggest and most famous music festival, with a city-sized crowd descending on Pilton in southwest England for the five-day event.

More than 200,000 people are expected to travel to the Somerset venue, which opens on Wednesday.

More than half of the trains from London to the Glastonbury Festival have already been cancelled. Before the industrial action was announced, 51 specially scheduled trains were to run over the three-day period.

But now, only five lines from London Paddington to Castle Cary – the closest station to the festival – are operating on Thursday. A total of 24 trains will run between Wednesday and Friday.

REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

Revelers watch Kylie Minougue perform at the Pyramid Stage during the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, Great Britain, June 30, 2019. – REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

UK train operator GWR said it plans to “keep trains on schedule” throughout the week. Some schedules can be changed but it says that it will contact customers who have reserved seats in these services.

Around 58 services will continue to travel from London and other UK locations to Castle Cary, carrying a total of 8,000 people.

But other routes that festival regulars can use to get to a connecting station can still be impacted.

“Other parts of the GWR network are likely to be more affected by the strike and customers may need to consider alternative ways to travel to a station serving Castle Cary,” GWR told passengers.

Glastonbury is considered one of the greenest festivals in the UK, but drivers are now being warned to avoid the area as cars and buses making up for reduced rail services can create major traffic jams.

Why are UK rail workers on strike?

RMT union leaders say workers face “an aggressive agenda of cuts in jobs, conditions, wages and pensions.”

Last-minute talks between railroad bosses and union leaders on Monday failed to stop the attack. RMT secretary general Mick Lynch said the dispute could not come to an end without the government “removing the shackles” of the railway companies.

He warned travelers that industrial action could continue for months.

“RMT has no choice but to defend our members industrially to stop this race to the bottom,” he said.

Lynch added that strikes at Network Rail, train operators and the London Underground will take place this week.

Photo AP/Matt Dunham

A worker stands on a picket line outside London’s Waterloo railway station. – Photo AP/Matt Dunham

“It is clear that the Conservative government, after cutting £4bn (€4.7bn) of funding from National Rail and Transport to London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.

“Railway companies have now proposed wage rates that are far below the relevant rates of inflation, going beyond the wage freezes of recent years,” he explained.

The Department of Transportation disputed RMT’s claims. It added that keeping the railways running during the pandemic has cost UK taxpayers around £600 (€698) per family.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the strikes were “orchestrated by some of the highest paid union barons, representing some of the highest paid workers in this country, which will cause misery and chaos to millions of passengers”.

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