DfT update on rail strikes and latest news of holiday season air and road travel disruptions.

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1. For those you who are not receiving direct notifications or have had the time to look up the detail, I am copying below today’s update from DfT that looks mainly at next week’s strike. It contains some useful detail and is about as good a definitive summary of the impacts as you are going to get anywhere.

The key takeaways include: confirmation that even if the RMT Ballot on the 12th resolves the issues it will be too late to reinstate normal services 13th-14th and 16-17th (also effecting 15th and disrupting18th). The strike will shut-down half the network completely, with only an average of 20% of normal services running on the other half. The special timetables for next week will be issued tomorrow, Friday 9th, at which point it will become clearer what the local impacts are in those places where trains are still running. Where services are running, early and late trains will be particularly impacted. The advice to rail travellers remains “only to travel if absolutely necessary”. In all likelihood that advice will be heeded and not necessarily just by rail users.

2.Meanwhile, you will have seen in todays headlines that PCS (Public and Commercial Service Union) yesterday announced a strike of around 1000 of their Border Force members on 23rd -26 and 28th -31st December at airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Birmingham and the port of Newhaven (others may also be effected, reports and predictions vary). The initial assessment, include that of HMG, appears to be that this will cause considerable inbound and outbound travel disruption and do so over a significant proportion of the peak of the Christmas holiday travel season.

The Home Secretary’s comment today, that those with plans to travel abroad this Christmas should “think carefully”, may well be sage advice. If nothing else it clearly illustrates the very seriousness nature of the situation. How ever, sage and how ever well meant, or necessary, I can’t help thinking that the already highly publicised comment, it will not have gone down too well today with the domestic outbound or international inbound markets and, especially, on the supplier side of that equation who are are still in differing stage of post-covid recovery.

3. Less well publicised and therefore I suspect know, is the PCS strike of Highway Agency staff and, specifically, National Highways England’s PCS members. There is a rolling series of region-based strikes planned on different dates, all but one taking palace across the Christmas and New Year holiday period and a national strike called 3rd -4th January. It is unclear, to me at least, how many highway patrol and other Highways England staff are PCS members, the degree to which those members will heed the call, or indeed what the impact of removing any, some or all coverage, on some or all of the National Highway’s, motorway network in England might be.

It is not perhaps unreasonable to assume it could and probably will be significant, especially the moment something goes wrong from a breakdowns, through accidents to other obstructions, or just poor winter weather. All things we can be certain will be taking place all too frequently during the peak winter road travel Christmas and New Year holiday period. We do not have very long to wait to start finding out if it is going to be a serious problem or not. The first region strike, covering the North West, Yorkshire & Humberside and the North East regions takes place 16th to 17th December. More details from PCS, including regional strike dates, can be found at:https://www.pcs.org.uk/news-events/news/national-highways-strike-dates-announced .

The DfT rail strike update reads:

Passengers warned to plan journeys in advance and only travel by train if absolutely necessary due to 48 hour strikes on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December

  • With the RMT, TSSA and Unite staging strike action on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December, only around 20% of services will operate, and in some parts of the country there will be no trains at all and services finishing earlier on 24 December 
  • Special timetables will be published on National Rail Enquiries on Friday, with trains starting later and finishing much earlier than usual, between 7.30am and 6.30pm   
  • Passengers who must travel should expect disruption, plan ahead and check when their last train will depart 
  • The RMT leadership have also imposed an overtime ban across 14 train operators from 18 December until 2 January, which will disrupt travel during the festive period with wide regional variations

The rail industry is working hard to keep a limited number of trains running despite upcoming national strike action called by the leadership of the RMT, TSSA and Unite, but is warning passengers to expect significant disruption and check before they travel. 

Thousands of specially trained and fully qualified back-up staff will step in during the walkouts to keep vital services running for those who need them, but passengers are being warned that even if the RMT call off strikes on 12 December following their membership referendum on Network Rail, it would be too late to reinstate services. As a result, it is now inevitable that industrial action on 13, 14 and 16, 17 December will see around half of the network shut-down, with only about 20% of normal services running. 

Rail passengers are asked to only travel if it is absolutely necessary during this time, allow extra time and check when their first and last train will depart. 

Special timetables for 13-17 December will be available for passengers from Friday 9 December.  In addition:  

  • Passengers are also advised that services on Thursday 15 December will also be affected; 
  • There is also likely to be some disruption in the early morning of Sunday 18 December as workers return to their duties;   
  • Passengers should also expect disruption from 18 December until 2 January, with wide variations on service provision, due to an overtime ban across 14 train operating companies imposed by the RMT;  
  • Christmas Eve will also see services close down significantly earlier than usual as a result of further strikes announced by the RMT and passengers are advised to plan ahead.  

Steve Montgomery, chair of the Rail Delivery Group, said:   

“Regrettably, the RMT leadership’s refusal to put our proposed 8% pay offer to its membership means we are unable to reach a resolution at this stage, although we remain open to talks. With the deadline having passed where disruption could be avoided even if strikes were called off, our focus is on giving passengers the maximum possible certainty so they can make their festive plans.  

“No one wanted to see these strikes go ahead, and we can only apologise to passengers and to the many businesses who will be hit by this unnecessary and damaging disruption.   

“We continue to urge RMT leaders to put our proposals to their members rather than condemning them to weeks of lost pay either side of Christmas during a cost-of-living crisis.” 

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said:

“The RMT has deliberately chosen to try and ruin Christmas for millions of passengers and businesses. They’re also intent on inflicting a monumental act of harm on an industry still desperate to recover from post Covid challenges by sabotaging a vital £100m programme of rail upgrades planned for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The industry will do all it can to keep services running and projects on-track but serious disruption is inevitable given the RMT’s action.   

“In talks over the months we have sought to address all the RMT’s concerns by putting a decent pay rise on the table, guaranteeing a job for anyone that wants one, significantly raising base salaries for the lowest paid and offering a new, huge rail travel discount scheme for members, and their families. By any reasonable measure, we have put a fair deal on the table.” 

Ticketing arrangements   

Passengers with Advance, Anytime or Off-Peak tickets for travel on a strike day can instead use their ticket on an alternative date: 

  • Tickets for 13, 14, 16, 17 December can instead be used the day before the date on the ticket, or up to and including Tuesday 20 December 
  • Tickets for 24, 26, 27 December can instead be used on 23 December or up to and including Thursday 29 December. 

Passengers with Advance tickets can be refunded fee-free if the train that the ticket is booked for is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled. 

If the Advance ticket is for a train that is scheduled for a strike day, is not cancelled, delayed or rescheduled, but a customer prefers not to travel, they should contact their ticket retailer.  

Customers with 2 x Advance tickets (an outbound and a return), to be used as a return journey, may be able to get a fee-free refund or change of journey for any unused legs/tickets, if one (either) of the legs is scheduled for a strike day. Customers should check with their ticket retailer. 

Passengers who are Season Ticket holders (flexi, monthly or longer), and who do not travel, can claim 100% compensation through Delay Repay for the strike dates of 13, 14, 16, 17 December. 

Passengers can also check on the National Rail Enquiries website or their rail operator’s website to see if their operator is affected by this industrial action. 

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