Rail travelers face another day of reduced service on Saturday as thousands of Railway, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) workers continue a 48-hour strike.
People have been urged to travel on the last full weekend before Christmas only if absolutely necessary, with only a skeleton service running and all train journeys ending in the early evening.
Railway companies are advising passengers to plan ahead and check online for updates, as around 20% of normal Saturday services operate between 7.30am and 6.30pm and some areas have no trains at all. The disruption is expected to last through Sunday morning.
Thousands of RMT members at Network Rail and 14 train operators – along with Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) members at six operators on Saturday – will take action in disputes over pay and working conditions.
It will be the last strike before Christmas Eve and give opportunity to people who want to travel. However, an overtime ban that applies to RMT train staff from Sunday will affect the service through January, with serious disruptions to operators such as Chiltern and South Western Railway.
A small number of National Highways controllers and traffic officers in the PCS union will also go on strike on Saturday, potentially adding to any disruption on the roads in the event of a traffic accident. The agency, which controls strategic roads and highways, said no roads would be closed and remained confident it had mitigation plans in place.
Some hopes were raised that the rail dispute could be settled before more strikes in January.
The union’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, said on Friday there were “no new proposals” but more meetings and “exploration” of possible solutions after what appeared to be a positive meeting between the RMT, Railway Secretary Huw Merriman and railway industry leaders on Thursday night.
Lynch said they “had an exchange of what might be possible and some avenues and ideas that all parties shared… There are no actual negotiations; there is some exploration of what could be developed.”
However, he told Sky News he was “optimistic” an agreement could be reached with compromises, adding: “I know there are some very simple steps the employers and we could take together to find a solution.” to find for it.”
The TSSA, whose members voted to accept Network Rail’s improved pay offer earlier this week, also remains at loggerheads with rail operators, with some industrial action among virtually all in England who are under contract to the Department for Transport.
Transport for Wales, which was not affected by strikes, confirmed on Friday it had reached an agreement with all rail unions for a 4.5% wage increase.
TSSA interim chairman Frank Ward said it had reached an agreement that involved “real negotiations”, adding: “It is crystal clear that Rishi Sunak’s government has a responsibility for opening negotiations with railway companies block and ruin Christmas for rail workers and passengers alike.”
The next RMT strike on Network Rail is due from December 24 at 6:00 p.m. to December 27 at 6:00 a.m. Although the union said there should be no impact on passengers as there are virtually no trains during the Christmas holiday dedicated to engineering work, Network Rail said it would bring trains to an early halt on Christmas Eve.
One of the few companies hoping to take action, Eurostar, announced on Friday that it would have to cancel its services on Boxing Day. While some cross-channel services had been operating on previous strike days, it was announced that Britain’s high-speed line to London would be closed.
Retailers and the hospitality and entertainment industries have complained of mounting losses as high street footfall and people’s travel plans are impacted.
Figures from location technology company TomTom showed that morning traffic congestion was significantly higher during the strikes in London, Liverpool and Glasgow compared to a week earlier, while traffic on high streets on strike days fell by up to 17% this week, according to Springboard.
Research by the RAC found that young people in particular saw Christmas travel plans affected by the strikes, with two in five 18-24 year olds having to change their travel plans. About half of them now planned to travel by car instead, and a quarter did not yet know how they would get to their planned destination in time for Christmas.
RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: “There is no question that this year’s Christmas holiday will be busier than normal on the streets as a result of the strikes.”
Meanwhile, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have halted sales of new tickets for flights to Heathrow on the days affected by Border Force strikes over Christmas.
A spokesman for the airport said the decision followed a request from Border Force, but added that no flights had to be canceled as a result.
Border Force workers at Heathrow Terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5, as well as Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports and the Port of Newhaven are planning strikes for December 23-26 and 28-31 .