Transport union leaders have apologised for the disruption caused by mass walkouts this weekend but said they had been left with no choice – as Network Rail accused them of a “huge own goal”.
Members of four trade unions are striking for 24 hours, causing the worst rail disruption of the year so far, with some areas of the country having no services all day.
Rail passengers have been advised only to travel if necessary on Saturday because of the action by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), Aslef, Unite and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA).
The timing coincides with the London Marathon on Sunday, leaving participants struggling to reach the capital for the run.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, speaking from a picket line at Euston station on Saturday, was pressed on how the union would “justify” causing disruption to a “major charity event”.
He told BBC Breakfast that union members did not want to cause the public difficulties and said it was the Tory party conference that was being targeted, rather than the marathon.
Asked whether he would apologise to the public, 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.”
“Whenever we put strikes on it’s going to inconvenience people. We don’t want to do that, we’d much rather have a settlement, we’d much rather get out of this dispute so our members can (provide) the service,” he added.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, has also offered apologies for the disruption caused by the strikes, according to the BBC.
He told the PA news agency his members are increasingly angry at the lack of progress in the dispute.
“We don’t want to be on strike but this dispute will continue until the Government lifts the shackles from the train companies,” he said.
“The message I am receiving from my members is that they want more industrial action, so I think more strikes are inevitable.”
Both union leaders also pointed to relatively high levels of public support for the industrial action, with many of those inconvenienced themselves joining the picket lines.
“When we polled the same people normally at the time of the strike, it’s 95% against us. Current approval ratings are running between 49% to 64%,” Mr Whelan told Times Radio.
Network Rail chief negotiator Tim Shoveller described the strikes as a “huge own goal” that would result in “less money to spend improving the railway”.
Speaking to Times Radio Breakfast, he said: “To target leisure travellers, as appears to be happening today and again next Saturday, is really frustrating. And it’s just a huge own goal.
“The profit is purely an accounting measure. And that all goes back into the railway, every single penny goes back into the railway.
“In fact, a tragedy of the strikes now is that because of the costs of the strike, we’ll actually have less money to spend improving the railway because of the compensation and costs that we’ll have from the strike days.”
Mr Lynch has written to Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, urging her to take “urgent steps to allow a negotiated settlement” after the union said latest figures showed railway bosses benefiting from Government tax cuts.
Railway industry bosses stand to gain up to £61,000 a year from the Chancellor’s tax cuts, more than most RMT members will earn in a year and in many cases twice as much, the union said.
Those higher up are receiving salaries of up to £2.5 million a year while workers struggle with the cost-of-living crisis and are denied pay rises, Mr Lynch said on Saturday.
Another strike by Aslef will be held on Wednesday while RMT members will walk out again on October 8, and again on October 10 in Scotland.
A reduced timetable has been published, showing that just 11% of rail services will run on Saturday, with some areas having no trains.
Trains will start later in the morning and finish earlier in the evening, and there will be no trains at all across large parts of the network.
Delegates travelling to the Conservative Party conference this weekend will be among those affected.
Those who must travel – including those looking to participate in or watch the London Marathon – have been advised to plan ahead and check when their last train will leave.
Passengers have also been warned there is likely to be some disruption in the early morning of Sunday October 2 as workers return.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, said: “Despite our best efforts to compromise and find a breakthrough in talks, rail unions remain intent on continuing and co-ordinating their strike action.
“This serves only to ensure our staff forgo even more of their pay unnecessarily, as well as causing even more disruption for our passengers and further damaging the railway’s recovery from the pandemic.”
Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at Rail Delivery Group, said: “It is particularly disheartening that this weekend’s strike will hit the plans of thousands of runners who have trained for months to take part in the iconic London Marathon.
“That will also punish the many charities, large and small, who depend on sponsorship money raised by such events to support the most vulnerable in our community.
“While we have done all we can to keep some services running, passengers should only travel by rail if absolutely necessary.”
Transport for London said its services will also be affected by the strikes, with no service expected on London Overground on Saturday and next Wednesday.
Runners and spectators trying to get into the capital in time for the 9.30am start of the marathon in Greenwich on Sunday have been warned they are likely to be frustrated by the strike.
Trains travelling any reasonable distance into central London will not arrive much before 9am.