Which train operators are affected?
Nearly every train line will be impacted in some way.
The strikes are by RMT members at Network Rail and across 13 train operators.
- Northern trains
- Avanti West Coast
- Cross Country
- Chiltern Railways
- Greater Anglia
- Govia Thameslink (plus Gatwick Express)
- London Underground
- West Midlands Trains (plus London Northwestern Railway)
- Great Western Railway
- Transpennine Express
The action against the operators is overshadowed by the walkouts at Network Rail – and in particular by signal workers.
Network Rail has reserves of trained signal workers, but only enough to allow 20pc of normal capacity to run.
Avanti West Coast and East Midlands Railways will also be impacted by additional strike action in December.
Eurostar strikes in the balance
Security staff at Eurostar were due to strike later this week in a dispute over pay, but called off the first of the strikes on Wednesday to let workers vote on a offer on the table.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union who are employed by security staff company Mitie had been due to walk out on Friday and Saturday, but said those strikes would no longer be going ahead amid continuing talks. Strikes are, however, still due to go ahead on December 22 and 23.
That strike action will still severely affect Eurostar services and travel plans for people over the final Christmas rush.
Can I get a refund if my train is cancelled?
Rail chiefs are still assessing what the policy will be and will make an announcement closer to the time. Previously, customers have been able to use pre-booked tickets a day early, or claim refund if they are due to travel on the day of the strike.
Customers with season tickets have previously been able to claim compensation through the delay repay scheme, while return tickets may be eligible for a 50pc refund if you cannot make part of your journey. Customers need to claim for refunds within 28 days.
National Rail’s website states: “If you purchased an advance, off-peak or anytime ticket and choose not to travel at all because your service on either your outward or return journey has been cancelled, delayed or rescheduled then you will be entitled to a refund or change from the original retailer of your ticket.”
On the Avanti West Coast strikes, customers are able to claim a refund if they had been due to travel on Sunday 11, Monday 12 or Tuesday 13 of December.
Why are rail workers striking?
Unions are demanding pay rises for their members who are battling soaring inflation. Mick Lynch, head of the RMT, has said the union “will not bow to pressure from the employers and the government to the detriment of our members”.
For RMT, Network Rail has offered a 5pc pay rise this year and 4pc in 2023. The train operating companies said they were waiting for a mandate from the Government for an improved offer.
Changes to what have been branded “archaic” working practices are the most contentious issue in the dispute.
Travelling habits have changed following the pandemic. Fewer people commute to work every day. More people are travelling on off-peak trains, after the morning rush hour or on weekends. Demand for business travel is stubbornly much lower than it was before Covid hit.
This means Network Rail and the train operators, whose costs are ultimately borne by taxpayers, must cut costs to balance the books. Part of this can be done by reducing staff numbers. But a large part of it is changing working practices, many of which are a legacy of the days of British Rail and public ownership.
Bosses what to introduce more technology, run teams more efficiently, and end parts of the railway operating in their own silos.
Unions fear this means job cuts are on the cards – and by extension, their power will be weakened. This week, they won permission to launch a legal challenge against strike reforms, which had been planned to try limit the impact of strikes.
In October, a bill was introduced to parliament that would set out minimum service obligations on the railways during strikes.
The Government has been attempting to take a tough line, as other workers also stage strikes over pay disputes.
Royal Mail workers have also planned a series of walkouts that could disrupt Christmas deliveries. Read what dates the strikes are being held as well as last Christmas posting details.