Employment

Climate campaigners slam decision to cut thousands of railway jobs

Rail companies will cut thousands of jobs but unions and climate change campaigners say train travel is essential to decarbonise transport

Great Western Railway train at Paddington Station

A file image of a Great Western Railway train at Paddington Station.

A decision by cash-strapped rail companies to cut thousands of jobs has sparked anger among climate campaigners who say investing in train travel is essential to decarbonising transport.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has invited thousands of railway workers to leave the industry in a bid to cut costs as railway use drops post-pandemic.  

Employees will have three weeks to apply for voluntary severance with no limits on the number of workers who could apply.

RDG, which represents train firms, says it needs to save cash with passenger numbers at about 65 per cent of pre-Covid levels. Commuting on the railway – providing revenue from peak time and season tickets – is still struggling to recover as many embrace new flexible working lives at home.

But Greenpeace UK has said the government should be encouraging people to get back on board.

“Instead of severance payments for jobs in vital public transport services, the government needs to be thinking about how policies can help people to use the train more as part of their everyday transport choices.” Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK told the Big Issue. 

“The train will need to be taking more of the strain if we’re going to be decarbonising transport and avoiding as much private vehicle use as possible,” he continued.

The cuts are “part of a vital set of reforms” for the railway to recover from the pandemic and respond to changing travel patterns, the RDG said. 

“We must adapt, and we cannot take more than our fair share from the taxpayer,” said chair Steve Montgomery. 

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) slammed the job cuts, which come weeks ahead of Glasgow’s global climate event COP26.

“Frankly, it’s ludicrous that with COP26 just round the corner, the Conservatives are looking to cut thousands of rail jobs which will mean that services on our railways will not be returning to their pre-pandemic levels,” said TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes.

“No amount of empty rhetoric by Johnson during COP26 will mask the fact that the Tories are just not at all serious about saving our planet.”

World leaders will be headed to Glasgow this November when COP26 takes place, with world leaders and climate experts gathering to put their heads together on the urgent climate crisis.

A special “climate train” will bring 500 environmental activists and representatives of the railways to Glasgow for the event as part of a campaign encouraging people to travel by train to the event. 

Despite RDG claiming the move is part of an agreement between rail companies and trades unions signed earlier this year, TSSA says none of the unions have agreed to it. 

The Campaign for Better Transport has called for domestic plane travel to be banned and passengers encouraged to take a train instead. Trains emit one sixth of the CO2 of planes per passenger mile.

Boris Johnson was widely mocked for flying from London to Cornwall for the UK’s most recent climate summit, the G7. 

Less than six months ago the government announced plans to integrate the railways into a single brand that will deliver “passenger-focused travel with simpler, modern fares and reliable services,” according to the government website. 

The reforms, claimed to be the biggest the rail industry has seen in 25 years, include the creation of a new public body Great British Railways that will give the general public a “familiar brand with united, accountable leadership.”

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