Just one in five trains across Great Britain are expected to be running on Thursday as rail workers go on strike in a dispute over pay and conditions.
Tens of thousands of rail, Tube and bus staff are staging walk-outs in the second half of this week with rolling disruption set to last through the weekend.
On Thursday, workers across 14 train operators and infrastructure manager Network Rail – represented by the RMT, TSSA and Unite unions – will walk out.
Their action is expected to leave four fifths of trains cancelled and half of lines closed completely – with remaining services only running between 7.30am and 6.30pm.
The knock-on effects of that strike are expected to continue into Friday morning, when staff on the London Underground and some bus routes represented by the RMT and Unite will also go on strike.
Then on Saturday workers at Network Rail and the train operating companies will walk out again, this time at the same time as bus drivers, who will be walking out again.
Workers want pay settlements to match inflation and are resisting cuts to their jobs.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that Network Rail “have not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train operating companies have not offered us anything new”.
He accused the government of having “secret negotiations” with Tube bosses about “cutting costs by slashing jobs and undermining working conditions and pensions”.
“Network Rail is also threatening to impose compulsory redundancies and unsafe 50% cuts to maintenance work if we did not withdraw strike action.
“The train operating companies have put driver-only operations on the table along with ransacking our members’ terms and conditions.”
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said his members in the rail industry were going into the third or fourth year of a pay freeze.
“Meanwhile, food and fuel bills are spiralling, and the Tory cost-of-living crisis is making working people poorer. Enough is enough – this cannot go on,” he added.
“For lots of our members, this is the first time they have ever taken industrial action – it is a last resort and not something any rail worker takes lightly.”
Mr Cortes added: “Railway workers put their lives at risk to keep the country running in the pandemic and were rightly hailed as heroes. Yet now the Tories are hampering negotiations and blocking employers from making a reasonable offer to those same rail workers.
“Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and the Department for Transport need to make a reasonable offer on pay and job security – either by coming to the table themselves or allowing employers to negotiate freely. The string-pulling and blocking negotiations must stop.
“This dispute is not going away. Thousands of rail workers across the country are experiencing real-terms pay cuts as inflation skyrockets and the cost of living keeps rising.
“We will not back down until our members have won the pay, conditions and job security they deserve.”
Speaking ahead of the latest stoppage, transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “It’s clear, from their co-ordinated approach, that the unions are hell-bent on causing as much misery as possible to the very same taxpayers who stumped up £600 per household to ensure not a single rail worker lost their job during the pandemic.
“Sadly, union chiefs have short memories and will be repaying this act of good faith by ruining millions of hard-working people’s summer plans.
“Businesses too will suffer, with the capital’s leisure and tourism sectors, which have been banking on that summer trade, set to lose millions – a particularly cruel blow given how hard many worked to stay afloat during successive summers of lockdown.”
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “It saddens me that we are again having to ask passengers to stay away from the railway for two days this week due to unnecessary strike action, when we should be helping them enjoy their summers.
“We have made a good and fair offer but, with the exception of our TSSA management grades who accepted the deal, our unions are refusing to let our employees have a say, and sadly that means more disruption on the rail network.
“We’ll run as many services as we can on Thursday and Saturday, but it will only be around a fifth of the usual timetable, so please only travel if absolutely necessary and, if you must travel, plan ahead and check when your last train will be.”