Employment

Train strikes: Rail passengers weigh in as Aslef drivers 'grind services to a halt'

Research published this week reveal that around 32% of people support the railway strikes

An LNER train at York. Credit: By The joy of all things - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=124666820

Many rail services are “grinding to a halt” as train drivers conduct their rolling strike action.

Members of Aslef – the union representing 96% of British train drivers – are on strike today (9 May) at Northern, Transpennine Express and LNER today.

The industrial action will shutter services across the North East of England and Cumbria. No Northern or Transpennine services will run at all, while LNER will operate a skeleton service.

The walk out is the latest action in a long-running dispute over pay, and follows two days of strikes on Tuesday (7 May) and Wednesday (8 May). Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, claims that drivers have not had a pay rise in around five years.

“Our pay deals at these companies ran out in 2019,” he said. “Train drivers at these [train companies] have not had an increase in salary for five years. That is completely wrong. The employers – and the government – think we are going to give up and run away. They’re wrong.”

At London’s King Cross station, impacted travellers were able to rebook on later trains. The Big Issue spoke to several – revealing mixed views on the strikes.

“We wanted to get up to Newcastle early, but the early trains weren’t running,” said Caroline Harris, returning home from a trip to London. “But we’re going up later now, it’s fine… all in all, we support the strikes. All in all, the companies can probably afford to give them [the drivers] a pay rise.”

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Ishan Shah – a former teacher from Doncaster – said that he was in two minds about the industrial action.

“I think they do earn more than I did when I was teaching probably, so that does put you out a bit,” he said. “But then again, cost of living has hit everyone, so maybe they need it.”

Ipsos research published this week reveal that around 32% of people support the railway strikes, while 42% oppose them.

On social media, some users vented frustration. “They cancelled the only train from the airport until noon… there’s rail replacement but then also all the coaches are booked full so I’ll only be in Newcastle at like 4pm,” wrote one traveller.

“Please give the rail workers what they’re asking for.. [we] are going through a lot with these strikes,” urged another.

However, X was also filled with statements of support. “Solidarity with Aslef members on strike today,” posted Andrew Fisher. “Workers and passengers have a mutual interest in ending the failure of rail privatisation.”

Which train services are impacted by strikes today?

Northern and TransPennine Express have cancelled all services today (9 May).

“Unfortunately, the action by Aslef on Thursday will see our network grind to a halt,” a Northern spokesperson said.

A Transpennine express spokesperson said that “services may be subject to short notice cancellation or amendment on other days”.

LNER is running a skeleton service on core lines between around 7am and 7pm, with 25 per cent of the normal schedule. The main Edinburgh-Newcastle-York-London line will have at least one train an hour. However, trains in the North – to Sunderland, Middlesborough, and Glasgow – will not run.

Use National Rail’s journey planner and your operator’s website to check before you travel.

The strikes come after days of chaos for railway users in the south. Further disruption is expected until Saturday 11 May as part of an Aslef overtime ban.

More strikes are likely in future, the union has indicated, as negotiations over pay stall. In April last year, the union rejected a deal that offered a 4% pay rise for two years, contingent on changes to work patterns.

“It is now a year since we sat in a room with the train companies – and a year since we rejected the risible offer they made and which they admitted, privately, was designed to be rejected,” says Whelan.

“Drivers would not vote to strike if they thought an offer was acceptable. They don’t. And that offer – now a year old – is dead in the water.”

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