Travel warning: Rail strike today as passengers head to football and Commonwealth Games

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Rail passengers are facing transport disruptions today due to a strike by train drivers as Brits head to sporting events including the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Members of the drivers union Aslef at seven train operators are walking out for 24 hours over pay in the latest outbreak of industrial unrest in the industry.

Rail bosses, at the Rail Delivery Group, have said the industrial action has been timed to coincide with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the start of the new season for most English football league clubs as the Championship, League One and League Two get underway.

The strike is hitting Arriva Rail London, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains.

Today’s picket line at Euston station as Aslef train drivers go on strike over pay ( Getty Images)

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, has accused the Transport Secretary of “lying” about negotiations over strikes.

Grant Shapps had written in The Times: “The ‘Two Micks’, Lynch of the RMT and Whelan of Aslef, are taking the taxpayer for a ride, but not in the way they are meant to.

“RMT is stalling on reform and Aslef is dragging its feet in negotiations while both call more strikes. Enough.”

Train drivers are going on strike today in rows over pay ( SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

And in response, Mr Whelan told Times Radio this morning: “I say Mr Shapps is lying, quite simply, quite clearly.

“We’re not dragging our feet in negotiations, we negotiate with 14 private companies, we do not work for the Government or the DfT (Department for Transport).”

He added: “I would like Mr Shapps to get us out of this catch-22 situation that he misrepresents at every opportunity.”

A near-empty Waterloo Station this morning as rail workers stage a 24-hour strike ( Martyn Wheatley / i-Images)

Speaking on the picket line outside Paddington station, Mr Whelan said he felt “invigorated” by the number of picket lines across the country.

He said that “somebody’s got to listen at some point”.

He added: “It’s not just the railways, it’s barristers, it’s teachers, it’s lecturers, it’s BT, the Royal Mail. I think workers everywhere for the last seven months have been valid in saying that the cost-of-living crisis needs to be addressed”.

However, he said more “overt support” was required from the Labour Party.

The strike is hitting Arriva Rail London, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains ( Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock)

In response to the strikes, Steve Montgomery, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We’re really disappointed that the Aslef leadership has decided to impose yet more uncertainty and disruption for passengers and businesses in a week which has already seen a strike by the RMT.

“Millions of passengers will have their weekend plans disrupted, particularly those who are working, or going to the Commonwealth Games or the first football match of the season.

“While we will do all that we can to minimise disruption, if you are going to travel on the routes affected, please plan ahead and check the latest travel advice.

“If you’re not able to travel, you can use your ticket either the day before or up to and including August 2, otherwise you will be able to change your ticket or claim a refund.

Aslef’s official picket line outside Reading station today ( Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock)

“Like any service or business, we must move with the times and cannot continue to ask taxpayers or passengers for more money when we should instead respond to the huge changes in travel behaviour post Covid.

“By making these necessary reforms such as ending the reliance on volunteer working at weekend, we improve punctuality, have more resilient Sunday services and use those savings to give our people a pay rise which has always been what we want to do.

“Further strikes will see our people out of pocket and mean less money to fund a pay rise, so we urge the Aslef leadership to resume talks so we can reach a deal that is fair to staff and taxpayers, and which secures a bright, long-term future of our railway.”

Further strikes are planned next month by Aslef and the RMT in the deadlocked row over pay, jobs and conditions.

To compound matters, there were long queues on the roads today as families travelled for their summer holidays.

Traffic builds up in both directions on the M25 near Stanwell, Surrey, with long queues also expected at Dover and Folkestone as people getaway on summer holidays ( Peter Macdiarmid/LNP)

“Strikes are always the last resort,” said Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef.

“We don’t want to inconvenience passengers, our friends and families use public transport, too, and we don’t want to lose money by going on strike but we’ve been forced into this position by the companies, who say they have been driven to this by the Tory government.

“Many of our members, who were the men and women who moved key workers and goods around the country during the pandemic, have not had a pay rise since 2019.

“With inflation running at north of 10% that means those drivers have had a real terms pay cut over the last three years. We want an increase in line with the cost of living, we want to be able to buy, in 2022, what we could buy in 2021. It’s not unreasonable to ask your employer to make sure you’re not worse off for three years in a row.

Southeastern trains in sidings near Ashford railway station in Kent as members of the drivers union Aslef at seven train operators walk out for 24 hours over pay ( PA)

“Especially as the train companies are doing very nicely, thank you, out of Britain’s railways, with handsome profits, dividends for shareholders, and big salaries for managers, and train drivers don’t want to work longer for less.

“Wage rises aren’t fuelling inflation. Excess profiteering is, but the Government isn’t asking companies to cut profits or dividend payments to help manage inflation. Wages are chasing prices, not putting them up.

“We don’t see why we should forego an increase in salary to keep pace with inflation and help the privatised train companies make even bigger profits to send abroad.”

Mr Montgomery issued an open invitation to Aslef’s leaders to meet with him to hold “meaningful talks” to resolve the dispute.

Aslef rail workers are staging a 24-hour strike in dispute over pay, jobs, and conditions ( Martyn Wheatley / i-Images)

He said: “I am ready and willing to talk to the leadership of Aslef today, tomorrow or indeed anytime next week. They should call off tomorrow’s action and talk to us instead.

“What our passengers and our staff expect is for us to talk and work out a way through this.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers will be frustrated that, again, their plans are being disrupted.

“It is crucial that talks continue to find a solution that avoids passengers being continually dragged into this industrial dispute.

“Information will be key throughout the disruption. Train companies should keep looking at the specific areas for improvement we identified from the June strikes about refunds, compensation and clear information. We will again monitor the impact on passengers and on those who cannot travel.”

Reading station was deserted this morning ( Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock)

There will be no services on the London Overground network because of the strike on Arriva Rail London and there will also be no Night Overground services on Saturday evening and the early hours on Sunday.

Andy Lord, Transport for London’s chief operating officer, said: “Planned strike action on the national rail network on Saturday will mean disruption for our customers.

“With no service expected on the entire London Overground network, I advise all customers to check before they travel and use alternative routes to complete their journeys.”

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