Rail services across Britain will be severely disrupted on Friday as train drivers stage the first of the latest wave of planned strikes in a long-running pay dispute.
Members of the drivers’ union Aslef will strike for 24 hours across virtually all the big passenger operators in England, stopping some major intercity and commuter services entirely.
Cross-border services to Wales and Scotland will also be affected, although the union is only in direct dispute with firms contracted to the Department for Transport in England.
No trains will run on networks including Avanti, Southeastern, Govia Thameslink, Northern, West Midlands, TransPennine Express and CrossCountry.
The general secretary of Aslef, Mick Whelan, said: “Talking to members in branches up and down the country, they are determined that strikes will go on as long as they need to. The government could sort this dispute out tomorrow if they made it sensible offer.”
Aslef called strikes for this Friday as well as 31 May and 3 June after rejecting a pay offer of 4% a year over two years from the train operators’ body, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG). Most drivers’ pay was frozen during the pandemic.
Further industrial action in the form of an overtime ban will come into effect next week, which could disrupt many operators that rely on rest-day working, with some such as Chiltern already warning of cancellations.
Aslef is reballoting members for an extended strike mandate, with results expected in June.
In a similar ballot by the RMT, union members employed by the main 14 train operating companies voted to continue strikes.
The RMT’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “Throughout this dispute – which has gone on for over a year – the government has tied the hands of the railway companies and prevented them offering a fair deal.
“We are striking so that the employers and government can see the huge anger among rail workers is very real and they need to recognise that fact, face reality and make improved proposals.”
Aslef and the RMT have been criticised for striking over the weekend of the Eurovision song contest final, when thousands of people are expected to head to Liverpool as the UK hosts the event on behalf of last year’s winners, Ukraine.
Both unions have denied targeting the final, and the RMT said it was the only date available under strike laws after its executive rejected the latest pay offer. Merseyrail, which is contracted by the local authority and not in dispute, is putting on extra trains.
The RDG has urged passengers to check before travel on Friday and Saturday, as well as Sunday morning when some services may be disrupted by the after-effects of strikes. It said it could “only apologise for this unnecessary and damaging disruption”.