Are train strikes still on? What are the dates of the rail strikes in 2023?

Fourteen months on from the start of the first national rail strikes since the 1980s, the disputes between the main rail unions and train operators over pay, jobs and working conditions appear as intractable as ever.

The biggest rail union, the RMT, says walk-outs will continue in late August and early September. Meanwhile Aslef, representing train drivers, says many of its members have not had a pay rise for four years.

Both unions are demanding no-strings increases that take into account the high level of inflation. The unions say they are prepared to discuss reforms, but these must be negotiated separately. They will expect any changes to be accompanied by commensurate pay boosts.

Train operators and ministers – who must sign off any deal – insist modernisation is essential following the collapse of rail revenue. Much of the “bedrock” of season ticket sales has vanished since the Covid pandemic. The only way to award even a modest increase, the employers maintain, is to fund it out of efficiency savings,

Caught in the middle: the long-suffering passenger. Since June 2022, national rail strikes and other forms of industrial action have scuppered the travel plans of tens of millions of train passengers. Stoppages have been called frequently, causing massive disruption and making advance travel planning difficult.

These are the key questions and answers.

Who is taking industrial action, and when?

The biggest rail union, the RMT, says 20,000 RMT members across 14 rail operators will walk out on the two key Saturdays at the end of the summer holidays, 26 August and 2 September.

The main impact will be on leisure travellers, particularly hitting families returning from holidays at home or abroad.

Transport for Wales and ScotRail are unaffected.

Announcing the strike, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The mood among our members remains solid and determined in our national dispute over pay job security and working conditions.”

“We have had to call further strike action as we have received no improved or revised offer from the Rail Delivery Group.

“The reason for this is the government has not allowed them a fresh mandate on which discussions could be held.

“Our members and our union will continue fighting until we can reach a negotiated and just settlement.”

The train drivers’ union, Aslef, is mounting “action short of a strike” in the shape of a series Monday-to-Saturday overtime bans. The latest began on Monday 7 August and continues until Saturday 12 August.

Hundreds of trains are being cancelled each day as a result. Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, says: “We have varied the action to show the industry – and passengers – their reliance on overtime.”

Which train operators are involved in the national disputes?

The RMT strikes and Aslef overtime bans are aimed at rail firms in England contracted by the Department for Transport. They include the leading intercity operators:

  • Avanti West Coast
  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Railway
  • Great Western Railway
  • LNER
  • TransPennine Express

London commuter operators:

  • C2C (not involved in the Aslef action)
  • Greater Anglia
  • GTR (Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink)
  • Southeastern
  • South Western Railway

Operators focusing on the Midlands and north of England:

  • Chiltern Railways
  • Northern Trains
  • West Midlands Railway

What is happening about the London Underground?

The Underground, the London Overground and the Elizabeth Line are unaffected by the planned industrial action. But some routes that offer alternatives to rail services hit by industrial action, such as in south London, may be busier than normal.

Which days are being targeted?

Like any unions, the RMT and Aslef are seeking the biggest impact – ie to cause as much disruption as they can. With rail commuting sharply down since the Covid pandemic, the target is now leisure passengers.

The RMT union’s national walk-outs previously targeted three of the busiest days of July, with many families on the move at the start of school holidays in England, particularly to and from seaside resorts.

The latest RMT strikes will hit the return home.

Aslef’s rolling overtime bans are aimed at leisure travellers in the peak holiday month of August.

Which trains will run during the Aslef industrial action and any future RMT strikes?

Passengers can expect normal service on:

  • Caledonian Sleeper
  • Grand Central (although the firm is making dozens of cancellations due to fleet issues)
  • Heathrow Express
  • Hull Trains
  • London Overground
  • Lumo
  • Merseyrail
  • ScotRail
  • Transport for Wales

Southeastern: The Aslef overtime ban is unlikely to hit services. Any future RMT strike days will see much reduced services. Links wil run from London Victoria to Bromley South, London Bridge to Dartford and Sevenoaks and London St Pancras International to Ashford International, Canterbury and Ramsgate, with reduced service hours.

Southern: A reduced timetable will operate on all days of industrial action, but largely with normal hours. On Saturday 5 August there will be no trains between London and Brighton – the location for a big Pride celebration.

All coastal services, linking Southampton and Portsmouth with Brighton, Eastbourne, Lewes and Hastings, are cancelled on Saturday.

Gatwick Express: Cancelled on all days of industrial action, but alternative Southern services are available (and are much cheaper).

Thameslink: The Thameslink core between London Bridge and St Pancras International will be closed during all industrial action.

During the Aslef overtime ban, an emergency timetable with fewer services will operate.

On any future RMT strike days, a much-reduced service will run between 7am and 7pm.

Southwestern: Reduced services during Aslef overtime ban. On any future RMT strike day, a skeleton network will run linking London Waterloo with Guildford, Southampton, Ascot and Hampton Court.

Great Western Railway (GWR): The Aslef overtime ban “is likely to cause some short-notice alterations or cancellations”. All Night Riviera sleeper services have been cancelled for two weeks, resuming on 13 August.

On any future RMT strike days, a core service is likely between London Paddington and Oxford, Cardiff, Bath, Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth.

CrossCountry: Expect short-notice alterations or cancellations during the Aslef overtime ban.

On any future RMT strike day, a reduced network with nothing north of Edinburgh or west of Plymouth is likely. Cardiff to Nottingham trains will not run, and the usual link from Birmingham to Stansted Airport will terminate at Peterborough.

Chiltern: Fewer trains and reduced hours during the Aslef overtime ban, with additional cancellations due to engineering work –including on HS2.

On any future RMT strike days the network will be reduced to a limited service linking London Marylebone with Aylesbury, Banbury and Oxford.

West Midlands Railway: During the Aslef train drivers’ overtime ban, “services will be subject to on the day alterations/cancellations”.

In addition, buses will replace trains on the Leamington Spa-Coventry-Nuneaton link and some Birmingham-Hereford services. Some Birmingham-Shrewsbury services will be cancelled.

Avanti West Coast: The Aslef overtime bans are not expected to have an impact. On any future RMT strike days, the basic pattern to and from London Euston will be one train each hour to/from:

  • Manchester
  • Liverpool (via Birmingham)
  • Preston, with a limited service onwards to Glasgow.

Northern: “Disruption is expected between 31 July and 5 August, due to industrial action called by Aslef.”

TransPennine Express: The Aslef overtime ban will mean some services starting later and finishing earlier than usual, with possible night-before or on-the-day cancellations.

On any future RMT strike days a very limited number of trains will run on the Manchester Piccadilly-Leeds-York-Scarborough route; between Preston and Manchester Airport; and between Sheffield and Cleethorpes.

East Midlands Railway: “There will likely be several train cancellations” – that is the prediction for the Aslef overtime bans. On any RMT strike days, the operator says: “Only travel by rail if absolutely necessary and if you do travel, expect severe disruption.”

LNER: During Aslef overtime ban, the state-owned rail firm serving the East Coast main line says: “We expect to run a normal timetable during these times, however, it is possible there will be short-notice alterations and cancellations.”

On RMT strike days, LNER traditionally runs regular services on the London-York-Newcastle-Edinburgh route, with first departures around 7am and final arrivals around 10pm. London-Leeds services will run approximately 7am-6pm.

Great Northern: “An amended timetable with fewer services will run. Services will be busier than usual, especially in peak hours. It’s likely you will need to queue and you may not be able to board your chosen service. You should allow extra time for your journey.”

Greater Anglia: “A number of cancellations” during the Aslef overtime ban.

Will airport trains run during industrial action?

The Gatwick Express between the Sussex airport and London is suspended during the Aslef action, but Southern trains are available on the London Victoria-Gatwick link.

Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Southampton, Birmingham and Manchester airports will have some trains during any future RMT walk-outs.

Heathrow airport is unaffected by the national walk-outs: it is served by the Heathrow Express and Elizabeth Line, as well as the London Underground.

Will Eurostar be affected?

No, but connections to and from the train operator’s main hub at London St Pancras International may be difficult because of industrial action at all three domestic train operators at the station (East Midlands Railway, Southeastern and Thameslink) serving the station.

Why is Aslef taking industrial action?

Mick Whelan, Aslef’s leader, said: “Once again we find ourselves with no alternative but to take this action. We have continually come to the negotiating table in good faith, seeking to resolve the dispute.

“Sadly, it is clear from the actions of both the train operating companies and the government that they do not want an end to the dispute. Their goals appear to be to continue industrial strife and to do down our industry.

“We don’t want to inconvenience the public. We just want to see our members paid fairly during a cost of living crisis when inflation is running at above 10 per cent, and to not see our terms and conditions taken away.

“It’s time for the government and the companies to think again and look for a resolution.”

Why was the RMT striking?

The RMT was walking out in response to an ongoing dispute over working conditions, job security and pay.

The RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has described the latest offer from the train operators – represented by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – as “substandard”. He said: “This latest phase of action will show the country just how important railway staff are to the running of the rail industry.

”The government continues to shackle the companies and will not allow them to put forward a package that can settle this dispute.

“RMT will continue its industrial campaign until we reach a negotiated settlement on pay, working conditions and job security.”

The RMT has staged walk-outs on 33 days in the current wave of strikes, with Aslef stopping work on 13 previous occasions.

What do the train operators say?

A spokesman for the RDG said: “More strikes are totally unnecessary. After a year of industrial action all the RMT has achieved is losing their members more money than they would have received in the pay offers they refused to put to put out to a vote, despite having agreed the terms with the negotiators the room.

“We have now made three offers that the RMT executive have blocked without a convincing explanation. We remain open to talks and we have said repeatedly that we want to give our people a pay rise.

“But until the union leadership and executive is united in what it wants and engages in good faith with the 30 per cent shortfall in revenue the industry is continuing to grapple with post-Covid, it is difficult to move forward.

“Sadly our staff, our customers and the communities across the country which rely on a thriving railway are the ones that are suffering as a result.”

What does the government say?

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “After a year of industrial action, passengers and rail workers alike are growing tired of union bosses playing politics with their lives.

“It’s high time the union leaders realised that strikes no longer have the impact they once did and are simply driving people away from the railway.”

I have a ticket booked for a day hit by industrial action. What can I do?

Passengers with Advance, Anytime or Off-Peak tickets can have their ticket refunded with no fee if the train that the ticket is booked for is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled.

Train operators are likely to offer flexibility to travel on a wide range of non-strike days.

Passengers with season tickets who do not travel can claim compensation for the strike dates through Delay Repay.

What are the alternatives?

As always, long-distance coach operators – National Express, Megabus and Flixbus – will keep running, though seats are becoming scarce and fares are rising.

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