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Millions hit by travel disruption as rail strike cripples services

·4-min read
Millions hit by travel disruption as rail strike cripples services

Millions of people are suffering disruption as the largest rail strike for a generation cripples Britain’s train services.

Only a fifth of trains are running on Tuesday and half of lines are closed as around 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators have walked out.

Services are generally restricted to main lines, but even those are only open between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

Usually busy stations such as London Euston are nearly deserted except for union picket lines.

Journey planning website National Rail Enquiries stopped working for around half an hour, but the cause of the problem is believed to be unrelated to the strike.

London Underground services are also suspended on the vast majority of lines today due to a walkout by workers.

Roads are busier than normal, with heavy traffic in city centres and on outer London sections of the M1, A4 and A40.

Lines likely to remain open during the rail strike
Lines likely to remain open during the rail strike (PA)

People trying to travel around the capital face long queues for buses.

Uber has hiked its prices amid a spike in demand, with a three-mile journey from Paddington to King’s Cross estimated to cost £27 at 8.45am.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Breakfast there will be meetings of the Cobra emergency committee on the rail strikes this week.

He said he does not meet unions, as he described calls for him to join them round the negotiating table as a “stunt”.

He went on: “I don’t typically meet with them because it’s a red herring.

“If I thought there was a one in a million chance it would make a slightest bit of difference, of course I would do so at the drop of the hat.”

Much of Britain will have no passenger trains for the entire day, including most of Scotland and Wales, the whole of Cornwall and Dorset, and places such as Chester, Hull, Lincoln and Worcester.

Last-ditch talks failed to resolve the bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions, with all sides blaming each other for the lack of progress.

Strikes are also planned for Thursday and Saturday.

At Birmingham New Street station, a few would-be passengers and commuters were trying to work out their travel plans, gazing at timetables on their phones and the departures board on the main concourse.

Carol Hutchinson, who is on her way back to the Lake District after coming off a six-hour flight from Egypt, landed in the UK to find her direct train from Birmingham International station cancelled.

Having made her way to New Street, she was waiting to board, with her luggage, what appeared to be one of the few trains still running.

“I think it’s going to be standing room only… I’m not even sure I’ll get on with my suitcase,” she said.

An empty platform at Wellington station in Shropshire
An empty platform at Wellington station in Shropshire (Nick Potts/PA)

Plant pathology Masters student Munjabordrain Dopl was one of a handful of travellers at Newcastle Central station.

He said his research has been disrupted by the need to get an earlier train to Manchester Airport, before flying to Cameroon to attend his father’s memorial ceremony.

“It’s really affecting me,” he told the PA news agency.

“In a laboratory you have to respect the schedule, and I was supposed to be in the lab now and getting the train at 1pm.

“Because of this I’ve had to abandon my research and get an early train.”

Dozens of people joined the first train to London out of Maidenhead station in Berkshire, a popular town for commuting, at 7.40am.

Rail and Tube strikes
Striking rail staff form a picket at Nottingham railway station (Zac Goodwin/PA)

But other platforms were empty, with only one train running every half hour to the capital on the Elizabeth line route.

Pupils and parents are being urged to make an alternative plan for getting to school for A-level and GCSE exams.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to say ahead of a Cabinet meeting that unions are “harming the very people they claim to be helping”.

He is set to accuse unions of “driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of rail workers”, while also hitting businesses across the country.

He will say: “Too-high demands on pay will also make it incredibly difficult to bring to an end the current challenges facing families around the world with rising costs of living.

“Now is the time to come to a sensible compromise for the good of the British people and the rail workforce.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch warned that the dispute could continue for months, adding: “It is clear that the Tory Government, after slashing £4 billion of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.”

The Department for Transport disputed Mr Lynch’s clams, adding that it has cost taxpayers about £600 per household to keep the railway running during the coronavirus pandemic.

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