Why can’t Britain’s railway take the political heat?

By Rachel Groves

This time last week, the nation’s railway ground to a halt as its rails buckled under the intensity of the UK’s hottest heatwave. Tomorrow (Wednesday 27 July) much of the network will be at a standstill once again but this time, the trade unions are creating political heat, which is proving just as disruptive for the travelling public.

Tomorrow’s one-day strike marks the fourth day of industrial action on our railways this month, and begs the question ‘is there an end in sight or is this just the start of a summer of rail discontent?’

More than 40,000 RMT railways workers are thought to be taking part in the walk out, resulting in the cancellation of around 80% of services. Back up staff are being drafted in to keep a vital 20% of services running, but parts of the country will have no rail services at all and those that are running will only operate between 07.30 and 18.30.

The industrial action coincides with the UEFA Women’s Euros semi-final and scuppers travel the day before the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

In our post lockdown world, rail strikes perhaps don’t have the sting they once had, as hybrid working means that many can work from home for the day, but for those who must travel to their place of work, it is another mighty blow to their routine. However, these changes to our way of working are just one of the factors driving the need for change in our railway.

Network Rail argues that the railway must modernise to make it cost effective and enable it to survive in the long term, whilst the Unions focus on pay rises, job security and working conditions. Against the backdrop of rapid inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, all these things are important if we want to have any sort of rail network in the future.

Unfortunately for travellers, the disruption isn’t confined to tomorrow and a single trade union. ASLEF, Britain’s trade union of train drivers, has also called a strike across seven train operators on Saturday 30 July which will cause significant disruption to many routes including those serving the Commonwealth Games.

All we can do is plan ahead, check before we travel, expect disruption and only travel if necessary.