Rail passengers in Britain are experiencing the longest and most destructive series of strikes since the 1980s.

Industrial action by rail workers has been taking place since June and appears to be intensifying, with October being the worst-hit month and industrial action continuing into November.

UK-wide rail strikes or more localized stoppages occurred almost every day during the first 10 days of October, disrupting millions of potential journeys; and mass action continues for a number of train operators.

Despite the new Minister of Transport, Anne-Marie Trevelyanmeeting with rail union leaders, any signs of progress were dashed by three new walkouts by RMT members across England, Wales and Scotland in early November,

What is the rail dispute about?

There are actually dozens of individual disputes involving many employers:

  • Network Rail is a provider of infrastructure, track, signaling and some major stations
  • More than a dozen train operators are contracted by the Department for Transport (DfT) to run timetabled services.

Four trade unions participate:

  • RMT, the main union of railway workers
  • Aslef representing the machinists
  • Transport Salaried Workers Association (TSSA), the white collar trade union of the transport industry
  • Unite by representing some classes with some train operators

But the key elements are common to all disputes:

  • Pay, which the unions say should be in line with the current high inflation
  • Work, and in particular the prospect of forced dismissal
  • Working conditions – Unions are determined to get a bonus for any increase in productivity

Now another element has crept in: accusations of hypocrisy on the part of the employers.

The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynchsaid the behavior of Network Rail bosses prompted the latest strike: “On the one hand, they have been telling our negotiators that they are ready to do a deal, while at the same time planning to torpedo the talks by introducing unacceptable changes to our negotiators’ conditions.

“Our members are furious at these duplicitous tactics and now they will respond in kind, with extended strikes.”

Network Rail strongly denies these allegations.

When are the next days of the national strike?

The RMT called for a series of coordinated strikes.

Members working for Network Rail on November 3, 5 and 7 have been told to walk out.

Staff at 14 rail companies will stop work on the first of those dates, November 3 and 5.

Six long-distance railway companies:

  • Avanti West Coast,
  • Running terrain
  • East Midland Railway
  • Great Western Railway
  • LNER
  • Transpennine Express

Eight shorter distance operators are also affected:

  • c2c
  • Chiltern Railways
  • Great England
  • GTR (including Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express)
  • Northern
  • South-eastern
  • South Western Railway
  • West Midlands Trains

Additional strikes on November 3 on London Underground and Overground.

Will the trains run?

yes. On the first two days of the strike – Thursday the 3rd and Saturday the 5th – one in five trains is likely to run.

A higher percentage may be working on Monday 7 November, when only Network Rail staff are on strike.

But large areas of the UK have no rail at all due to the lack of Network Rail signallers.

The impact will extend to the day after each national strike, affecting all six days from November 3 to 8 inclusive.

Early trains the day after each strike will be canceled and around 75 per cent of services are likely to run on Friday 4, Sunday 6 and Tuesday 8 November.

Trains that do run are likely to be busy, as many people who had hoped to travel on strike days will be looking to reschedule.

The RMT union coordinated the Network Rail strike with mass action in separate disputes involving members working on London Underground and London Overground. The goal is to stop as much capital as possible.

Will Eurostar make an impact?

Thus, if the previous schedule is maintained, international trains from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam from November 3 to 8 inclusive will not run early in the morning, and will stop early in the evening on November 3, 5 and 7.

Any other glitches?

a lot. Avanti West Coast Train Managers, who are members of the RMT, walked out on Saturday 22 October and will do so again on Sunday 6 November in a row due to the imposition of rosters.

The rail firm said: “Customers should expect our timetables and opening hours to be significantly reduced and please note that services which are running are expected to be busy.”

Further strikes by the drivers’ union, Aslef, probably. Mick Whelan, the general secretary, said: “The morally corrupt rail companies signed contracts with the government to say they would not offer more than 2 per cent, knowing that we have free collective bargaining and do not work for the government.

“The railway companies decided to make us take a hand. They order drivers to cut wages on real terms.”

In addition, morale across the rail industry is low, with several operators reporting higher than normal levels of staff sickness.

The TransPennine Express, for example, is running on a reduced timetable until December 10, with dozens of additional cancellations at short notice.

In addition, TSSA members maintain a ban on overtime at TransPennine Express and Great Western Railway.

What is happening in Scotland?

ScotRail staff are currently refusing overtime as part of a pay dispute. ScotRail says: “Action other than strike action will result in some daily cancellations as ScotRail services require a day off and overtime as recruitment continues.

“We are doing everything we can to minimize disruption and keep customers informed of which services are affected.

“Best to check your travel the morning before you go.”

ScotRail staff who are RMT members will walk out for 24 hours on Saturday 29 October. The train operator says there will only be “a very limited number of services operating on a small number of routes”.

Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, LNER and TransPennine Express cross-border services will not be affected.

What do employers say?

Tim Shoveler, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: “A two-year deal with 8 per cent discount on fares and a new extended job guarantee until January 2025 is on the table and can be presented to our staff.

“Unfortunately, RMT management appear intent on more damaging strikes rather than giving their members the right to vote on our proposal. My team and I remain available for serious negotiations and continue to negotiate in good faith.

“Our sector has a £2bn budget hole, so far fewer passengers are using our services. This reality is not going to change any time soon, and a fair, affordable and improved deal is on the table, ready to be delivered if only our people were offered the chance.”

The Group of railway supplies (RDG), which represents train operators, rejected the unions’ claims of speculation, saying: “Since the end of franchising, the government has paid rail companies a fixed performance-related service charge.

“This means the taxpayer loses money every time RMT management go on strike.

“Instead of repeatedly misrepresenting the industry’s financial position to benefit its own cause, we call on the RMT to recognize the very real financial challenges the industry has faced post-covid, which are exacerbated by these strikes.”

What about the government?

Network Rail is a subsidiary of the DfT and train operators have a contract with the department to provide services. So, ultimately, ministers decide on pay and conditions.

Rail Minister Kevin Foster says: “The long-term impact of Covid-19 on passenger numbers and revenue, as well as the impact of strikes on rail customers, has increased the need for reform.

“It is important that the unions come to the table, end the strikes and come to an agreement that is fair not only to workers but also to taxpayers who have invested £16 billion to support our railways over the last couple of years.

At the Conservative conference, his boss, the transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said “a deal has to be done”.

Unions welcomed the replacement of previous transport minister Grant Shapps with Ms Trevelyan.

Both major rail unions successfully campaigned alongside the new Transport Secretary during the Brexit referendum, with the RMT urging its members to “Leave the EU to stop attacks on rail workers. Leave the EU to end austerity. Leave the EU to support democracy.”

I have a ticket booked for the day of the strike. What are my options?

Generally, you can travel a day or two before the strike or a day or two after, without any formalities. Alternatively, you can ask for a full refund, including both halves of the return ticket, if the strike has only affected one direction.

“If you purchased your ticket from another supplier, you will need to contact them directly,” the rail companies say.

Am I taking a risk by buying tickets late in November or December?

Only if you also agree to make non-refundable expenses that will be lost if you are unable to travel – such as hotel or event tickets.

Are any parts of the UK unaffected by these rail strikes?

Yes, so far the railways in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Wight line have avoided protests.