Train strikes crippling the country this week may turn Britons off railways for good, with commuters facing misery and chaos as they try to get to work. Around 40,000 members of the RMT union from Network Rail and 14 train operators are staging walkouts today, tomorrow, Friday and Saturday.
Around half of Britain’s railway lines are closed and only a fifth of services are running as thousands of workers at Network Rail and train operators stage their strikes.
And the services that are running will stop much earlier in the evenings than normal and are expected to be much busier.
Train drivers are also set to strike on Thursday, which will mean the UK’s rail network will be almost at a standstill.
Passengers have been advised to only travel if absolutely necessary.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper is calling on the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) to get “off the picket line and round the negotiating table”.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “There is a very fair pay offer on the table which has been accepted by two of the trade unions on Network Rail.
“The RMT recommended that their members didn’t accept it, but actually a third of their members still voted in favour of it.
“I think it is time that the RMT got off the picket line and round the negotiating table to try and hammer out a deal with the train operating companies and Network Rail.”
The minister insisted he has had “perfectly constructive discussions” with all rail union leaders when asked if he has a good relationship with RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.
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He added: “This is a very difficult week for those that depend on the train to get to work, to carry out important appointments, and for businesses who depend on those commuters.”
But speaking at an RMT picket line outside London Euston station, Mr Lynch said: “The Government and the companies have not put any fresh proposals to us.
“They know what needs to be done to move towards a settlement, how to work through the problems and get to some documentation that we can all support, but that’s not happened so far.
“We’re hoping in the next few days that they will come to us and propose more meetings and more sessions of negotiation but at the moment that’s simply not there.
“The Government has let these strikes go ahead and that’s unfortunate.”
When asked about reports in the Times newspaper that Government ministers fear passengers will turn their backs on rail, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We need to get the railways back working.
“The railways are a vital part of the economy, and they are a vital part of the solution to the environmental crisis we have got.”
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He added: “So we need to get the railways working, but what we need is a safe railway, we need a railway that is properly staffed, a railway that is properly funded, and is affordable for the public.”
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said the Government-owned company wants to “work with the RMT now to make clarifications where there’s been misunderstanding” with the rejected offer, and put it to another vote.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We only need 2,000 people who voted no last time to change their vote and the deal will pass.
“So, we think that’s within touching distance.”
And staff working for National Highways in England are also striking today and tomorrow.
The walkout by more than 100 road traffic officers and control room operators isn’t expected to have much impact on the network.
But roads are expected to be busy on both days as commuters drive to the office, instead of being able to get the train.