UK train stations deserted in eerie pictures as biggest strike in decades cripples country

Train passengers are being hit by major disruption due to the largest strike by rail workers for a generation

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London Euston, normally packed on a weekday morning, was almost deserted aside from picket lines by union members early today, with the start of services delayed until 7.30am.

Only a fifth of trains are running, half of lines are closed, and the network will be shut down at 6.30pm.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ministers would change the law to minimise disruption from strikes by requiring a certain level of service to be run and enabling the use of agency workers.

He said: “We are going to ensure that the law is firmly on the passengers’ side.”

London Euston was almost empty on Tuesday morning
London Euston was almost empty on Tuesday morning
A passenger waits at Great Malvern train station in Worcestershire
A passenger waits at Great Malvern train station in Worcestershire
An empty Birmingham New Street
An empty Birmingham New Street

He added that the industrial action is “taking us back to the bad old days of union strikes” as he vowed to “push on” with reforms of the sector.

Much of Britain will have no passenger trains for the entire day, including most of Scotland and Wales, the whole of Cornwall and Dorset, and places such as Chester, Hull, Lincoln and Worcester.

Last-ditch talks failed to resolve the bitter pay dispute, jobs and conditions, with all sides blaming each other for the lack of progress.

Around 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators have walked out.

Strikes are also planned for Thursday and Saturday.

RMT chief Mick Lynch
RMT chief Mick Lynch
Signs at Hunts Cross station, Liverpool informing of industrial action
Signs at Hunts Cross station, Liverpool informing of industrial action
The picket line outside Bristol Temple Meads station
The picket line outside Bristol Temple Meads station

London Underground services are also suspended on the vast majority of lines today due to a walkout by workers.

At Birmingham New Street station, a few would-be passengers and commuters were trying to work out their travel plans, gazing at timetables on their phones and the departures board on the main concourse.

Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite the Union, said: “The Labour Party was founded by the trade unions and we expect Labour MPs to defend workers, by words and by actions.”

This week’s strikes will cause travel misery for millions.

Pupils and parents are being urged to make an alternative plan for getting to school for A-level and GCSE exams.

Motorists were warned to expect a surge in traffic as train passengers switch to road transport.

The AA predicted that the worst affected roads are likely to be main motorway arteries, as well as rural and suburban areas.

About half of Great Western Railway’s trains due to serve Castle Cary in Somerset, carrying revellers to the Glastonbury Festival between Wednesday and Friday, are cancelled.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to say ahead of a Cabinet meeting that unions are “harming the very people they claim to be helping”.

He is set to accuse unions of “driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of rail workers”, while also hitting businesses across the country.

He will say: “Too high demands on pay will also make it incredibly difficult to bring to an end the current challenges facing families around the world with rising costs of living.

“Now is the time to come to a sensible compromise for the good of the British people and the rail workforce.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said Network Rail had offered a two percent pay rise with the possibility of a further one percent later dependent on efficiency savings.

A near-empty train carriage on the 7.57am Lumo service from Newcastle to London
A near-empty train carriage on the 7.57am Lumo service from Newcastle to London
A picket line is seen outside Birmingham New Street
A picket line is seen outside Birmingham New Street
The picket line outside Bristol Temple Meads station
The picket line outside Bristol Temple Meads station

He told BBC Newsnight that Network Rail had “escalated” the dispute during Monday’s talks, saying: “They have issued me a letter saying that there are going to be redundancies starting from July 1.

“So rather than trying to come to an agreement in this dispute, they’ve escalated it by giving us formal notice of redundancy amongst our Network Rail members.”

He warned the dispute could continue for months, adding: “It is clear that the Tory Government, after slashing £4bn of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.

“The rail companies have now proposed pay rates that are massively under the relevant rates of inflation, coming on top of the pay freezes of the past few years.

“At the behest of the Government, companies are also seeking to implement thousands of job cuts and have failed to give any guarantee against compulsory redundancies.”

The Department for Transport disputed Mr Lynch’s claims, adding that it has cost taxpayers about £600 per household to keep the railway running during the coronavirus pandemic.