Operators warn against all but essential travel as strikes loom

Passengers are being warned by Network Rail and train operators not to attempt to go by train tomorrow, which is the first of several strike days during early October. Tomorrow will see stoppages called by the RMT, ASLEF and TSSA, and the joint effect will come near to closing the network in England. Walkouts by Network Rail signallers will also mean serious disruption in Scotland and Wales. Network Rail has estimated that about 11 per cent of usual services will be able to run. Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, Birmingham New Street and London Euston will be among many stations which will be closed. Caledonian Sleeper services will also be affected, but trains are expected to run between the central belt and London. A second strike of ASLEF drivers has been called for Wednesday. Birmingham New Street and London Euston will both be closed, while Liverpool Lime Street will only be open for Chester services. Only very limited services will be running from  Manchester Piccadilly. A third strike, of 40,000 RMT staff, will be staged on the following Saturday, 8 October. Trains will run on main routes, but there will be fewer than usual. Last trains will depart between 15.00 and 17.00. A further RMT strike on ScotRail only has also been called for 10 October. Network Rail’s North West and Central region managing director Tim Shoveller said: ‘Despite our best efforts to compromise and find a breakthrough in talks, rail unions remain intent on continuing and coordinating their strike action. ‘This serves only to ensure our staff forgo even more of their pay unnecessarily, as well as causing even more disruption for our passengers and further damaging the railway’s recovery from the pandemic. ‘Passengers who want to travel this Saturday, and indeed next Wednesday and next Saturday, are asked only to do so if absolutely necessary. Those who must travel should expect disruption and make sure they check when their last train will depart.’ There have been talks between the government and union leaders since new transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan was appointed as the replacement for Grant Shapps in early September, but without apparent effect. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that it was ‘encouraging’ that Anne-Marie Trevelyan had met the union. He continued: ‘We welcome this more positive approach from the government to engage with us as a first step to finding a suitable settlement. However, as no new offer has been tabled, our members have no choice but to continue.’ There is likely to be some disruption in the early morning of the day after each strike, Sunday 2 October, Thursday 6 October and Sunday 9 October, as the network returns to normal.

Southeastern timetable changes criticised by watchdog

Southeastern is abolishing First Class when its new timetable comes into force in December. The operator has revealed that compared to 2019, before the Covid pandemic, it is now carrying 56 per cent of its former weekday peak passenger totals, 77 per cent of weekday off-peak and 90 per cent of weekend traffic, confirming a trend which has already been reported elsewhere. GWR, for example, has just launched discounted weekend tickets which allow travel on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, but not Sundays, so that demand is not put under more pressure on that day. Southeastern also said journeys on annual season tickets are now just 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, and that more passengers now commute only on some days each week. The new service pattern has been criticised by consumer watchdog London TravelWatch, which is unhappy about reductions in services from stations like Hayes through to London Charing Cross, Cannon Street and Waterloo East. It says that as a result more people will have to change at London Bridge, which is already a busy station. However, peak time services have been restored between Beckenham Junction and London Blackfriars, and there will be a new all-day service between Maidstone East and Charing Cross, via London Bridge. Southeastern said its new timetable reflects the way people now travel and includes changes that will improve punctuality. The simpler structure also means that ‘it has the flexibility to alter train services as demand changes’. Southeastern’s operations and safety director Scott Brightwell said: ‘The way we all travel has changed and many of our customers are now using our services differently and at varying times of the day. ‘This new and improved timetable delivers a more consistent all-day service and means we’re providing trains, and space, where it’s needed most. ‘Our customers tell us that reliability and punctuality are their highest priorities. So, we’ve simplified routes to remove bottlenecks which will see more trains running on time, fewer cancellations, and a more reliable service. ’The simpler structure of the timetable, with most trains leaving stations at broadly the same time each hour, means we can add more trains s demand changes. ‘As we continue to recover from the pandemic, our focus remains on providing the most convenient and reliable railway for everyone who uses it.’ Meanwhile London TravelWatch is calling for more staff to be on duty at London Bridge because of the increase in passengers changing trains, and it is also hoping that Southeastern will be prepared to reverse the changes in the spring if that proves to be necessary.