UK rail strike: Train stations sit empty as Britons choose to work from home

Is that all you’ve got, Mick! Stations sit empty as RMT strike grinds railways to a halt but firms boast it is ‘business as usual’ with staff WFH as unions are warned walkouts will turn commuters away from trains for good

  • Morning rush-hour traffic in London, Birmingham and Manchester is significantly down today on last week
  • Rail passengers across UK suffer fresh travel chaos today after thousands of RMT workers went on strike 
  • Disputes in bitter row over jobs, pay, pensions and conditions are worsening, with more strikes on Saturday
  • But HR expert warns the new era of working from home means striking is a ‘dangerous game for rail services’

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Train stations across Britain were left deserted today as commuters chose to work from home during the rail strikes and experts said industrial action was becoming less effective – despite it crippling services again.

Morning rush-hour traffic congestion in the likes of London, Birmingham and Manchester was significantly down on the same time last week as many people decided not to travel into the office by train, car or any other method.

Figures from location technology firm TomTom showed the congestion between 8am and 9am in London today was 40 per cent, down on 55 per cent in the same period last Wednesday. In Birmingham, it was 27 per cent today compared to 44 per cent last week; and in Manchester it was at 40 per cent today, down from 53 per cent.

The data, which represents the proportion of additional time required for journeys compared with free-flow conditions, was released as rail passengers suffered fresh travel chaos after thousands of workers went on strike.

Disputes in the bitter row over jobs, pay, pensions and conditions are worsening, with more strikes due in the coming days, and a wave of industrial action planned next month on the railways and London Underground.

But HR expert Sam Alsop-Hall pointed out that the new era of working from home means striking is a ‘dangerous game for rail services as they might end up eliminating the demand for their services which in turn limits their ability to negotiate for a pay increase’. Another said it was ‘relatively easy for business to continue as usual’.

GLASGOW: Passengers make their way through Glasgow Central station this morning amid the nationwide RMT strike

GLASGOW: Passengers make their way through Glasgow Central station this morning amid the nationwide RMT strike

LONDON WATERLOO: People read an electronic board at London Waterloo station this morning during the UK rail strike

LONDON WATERLOO: People read an electronic board at London Waterloo station this morning during the UK rail strike 

LONDON ST PANCRAS: A lone commuter prepares to pass through a ticket gate at London St Pancras station this morning

LONDON ST PANCRAS: A lone commuter prepares to pass through a ticket gate at London St Pancras station this morning 

SHEFFIELD: A handful of passengers wait at Sheffield station today as members of the RMT take part in a fresh strike

SHEFFIELD: A handful of passengers wait at Sheffield station today as members of the RMT take part in a fresh strike

LONDON KING'S CROSS: The empty concourse at London King's Cross station today as the RMT takes part in a fresh strike

LONDON KING’S CROSS: The empty concourse at London King’s Cross station today as the RMT takes part in a fresh strike

LONDON EUSTON: The near-empty station concourse during the morning rush-hour period at London Euston station today

LONDON EUSTON: The near-empty station concourse during the morning rush-hour period at London Euston station today

BIRMINGHAM NEW STREET: Very few people walk around Birmingham New Street train station this morning during the strike

BIRMINGHAM NEW STREET: Very few people walk around Birmingham New Street train station this morning during the strike

LONDON VICTORIA: Passengers sit in a waiting area during rush hour at London Victoria railway station this morning

LONDON VICTORIA: Passengers sit in a waiting area during rush hour at London Victoria railway station this morning

BASINGSTOKE: A near empty Basingstoke station in Hampshire this morning as members of the RMT begin fresh strikes

BASINGSTOKE: A near empty Basingstoke station in Hampshire this morning as members of the RMT begin fresh strikes

Mr Alsop-Hall, chief strategy officer at Birmingham-based recruitment firm Woodrow Mercer Healthcare, added: ‘We operate a hybrid working policy. If we’re notified the trains are going on strike we just tell everyone they can work from home on that day.

‘We also had a situation last week where two train tickets to London from Birmingham were almost £400 – so we just moved the meeting online with an hour’s notice.’

Angela Rayner’s militant union-backing boyfriend dares Keir Starmer to sack him as he defies Labour leader to join rail strikers (and Jeremy Corbyn) on picket line demanding a 7% payrise 

Angela Rayner’s hard-left Labour MP boyfriend has challenged Sir Keir Starmer to fire him as he joined Jeremy Corbyn and union baron Mick Lynch on a picket line in London to support a rail strike that has left just one in five trains running today and millions unable to travel in another £100million-plus hit to the economy.

In a clear act of defiance to Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Transport Secretary Sam Tarry turned up at Euston station ‘in solidarity’ with the 40,000 RMT members who have shut down at least half of Britain’s rail network after a week of disruption in late June with more planned for August.

Shadow Transport Secretary Sam Tarry at London Euston today

Shadow Transport Secretary Sam Tarry at London Euston today

The Ilford South MP, 39, a former TSSA union official, is in a relationship with Ms Rayner, 41, having become close to after he ran her campaign to become Labour’s deputy leader. She separated from her husband Mark in 2020 and Mr Tarry, a father of two, has also parted from his wife. 

Mr Tarry’s stand is another blow to Sir Keir’s authority amid rumours that his girlfriend Angela is after his job. It came hours after the Labour leader again ordered his frontbenchers to resist joining striking rail workers on picket lines today after 25 MPs defied similar orders last month. He failed to sack any of them. He has also been accused of flip-flopping over whether he backs the strikes or not. 

Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, with Mick Lynch in the background, Mr Tarry said that if Labour was in power then the RMT would not be striking – in a clear pledge that if he was transport secretary he would offer railway workers the 7 per cent pay rise they are demanding. 

Asked whether he expected to be sacked by Sir Keir, Mr Tarry said: ‘I’ve no idea what Keir will decide to do but I know this – if Keir was in government right now, this dispute wouldn’t be happening.’ And asked if Sir Keir should be with him at the picket, he added: ‘I have absolutely 100% confidence that any Labour Party MP would be in support of striking workers who have given up a day’s pay, a week’s pay or even longer.’ 

Sir Keir Starmer has been silent on whether he will sack Tarry – and Labour chair Anneliese Dodds said it is up to the whips to decide whether Mr Tarry loses his job for insubordination.

Asked what Sir Keir should do about his minister defying his orders, Ms Dodds told Sky News: ‘Ultimately, as I said, it’s a decision for that individual, but I’m sure that the whips will be looking at this in terms of it being a disciplinary matter. But, quite frankly, for me, the big issue here is why, in England, we’ve got people’s transport being disrupted so substantially with industrial action’.

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Only around one in five trains are running today, on around half the network, with some areas having no trains all day.

Picket lines were mounted outside railway stations as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 14 train operators went on strike.

But barrister Tahina Akther, who is co-founder of London-based legal firm Wildcat Law which does nearly all of its client meetings as video conferences on Microsoft Teams, said it was ‘relatively easy for business to continue as usual’ despite the strikes.

She told MailOnline: ‘The legal industry has always been very traditional in its approach. Pre-pandemic it was unusual for lawyers to work anywhere other than in an office or chambers or physically in court.

‘The pandemic changed all (that), now more and more lawyers are working either remotely or via a hybrid model. This means that when things like train strikes occur it is relatively easy for business to continue as usual.

‘It was once thought that clients would never take legal advice other than in an office, face to face. That myth has been thoroughly debunked, with many clients now preferring to meet virtually. Thus removing the necessity for the crowded commutes via train or car. Train strikes and road congestion will merely accelerate this evolution.’

And Ed Rimmer, chief executive at Bath-based funding firm Time Finance, told MailOnline: ‘With offices in some of the UK’s major cities, including Manchester, Bath, and Cardiff, our company has always been vulnerable to rail strikes. In the past, it’s made our employees’ commutes to work or attending important meetings quite tough.

‘The world’s evolved since then and the working from home culture and option to hold virtual meetings really helps office-based businesses like ours to better prepare for any type of rail strike interruption. It’s very unlikely this would cause any disruption to us now.’

Meanwhile, experts at airport parking comparison firm Airport Parking Shop said they had noted a 23 per cent increase in bookings over the last few days as people plan to drive to airports instead of taking the train, with many making last-minute changes to their plans and the average booking time now down to just ten days before.

And broadband providers said they expected an increase in both ‘downstream’ and ‘upstream’ traffic of up to 15 per cent, making usage broadly in line with the levels seen during the pandemic.

Tony Hughes, chief executive of full fibre provider 4th Utility, told MailOnline: ‘Due to the nationwide rail strikes, a surge in usage across our networks for much of today is absolutely inevitable.

‘Millions more people are expected to be abandoning their commutes and working from spare bedrooms and studies – using video call platforms such as Zoom, Teams and Google Hangouts.’

Today, passengers on the rail network were urged to only travel by train if they must, and, if it is necessary, to allow extra time and check when their last train will depart.

Trains will also be disrupted tomorrow morning with a later start to services as employees return to duties.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) has also announced a strike by its members at Avanti West Coast today, while members of the drivers’ union Aslef at seven companies will strike on Saturday.

Shadow transport minister Sam Tarry joined striking workers on the picket line at London Euston station, in defiance of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s orders to stay away.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘If we don’t make a stand today, people’s lives could be lost.’

Asked whether he expects to be sacked by Sir Keir, Mr Tarry said: ‘I’ve no idea what Keir will decide to do but I know this – if Keir was in government right now, this dispute wouldn’t be happening.’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News that Mr Tarry’s actions are ‘clearly in direct defiance of Sir Keir’ and ‘no doubt he’ll want to remove him from his job’.

Rail strikes tweets

Rail strikes tweets

Rail strikes tweets

Rail strikes tweets

Rail strikes tweets

Rail strikes tweets

Many passengers turning up at stations are unaware of the strike. Fabian Ward was sat on the Birmingham New Street concourse planning how to get home to Telford 34 miles away. He said: ‘I didn’t know about the strikes to be fair, otherwise I would have driven.’

London Waterloo station is quieter than normal, although hundreds of passengers left trains arriving at 8.10am and 8.30am. A few dozen protesters are on a picket line at the main entrance to the station.

Some are waving RMT flags, others are selling copies of socialist newspapers and wearing RMT-branded T-shirts. Members of the National Education Union are also there in support.

Ola, one of the pickets, said: ‘We have been here since 7am. The support from the public has been particularly good.’

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said union members are more determined than ever to secure a decent pay rise, job security and good working conditions.

A Network Rail map shows the disruption on trains today with limited services running between 7.30am until 6.30pm

A Network Rail map shows the disruption on trains today with limited services running between 7.30am until 6.30pm

‘Network Rail have not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train companies have not offered us anything new,’ he said.

Mr Lynch added: ‘RMT will continue to negotiate in good faith but we will not be bullied or cajoled by anyone.’

Mr Shapps said in his three years as Transport Secretary there has not been a single day when unions have not been in dispute by threatening or taking industrial action, with around 60 separate disputes in 2022 alone.

‘Today, union bosses are once again trying to cause as much disruption as possible to the day-to-day lives of millions of hardworking people around the country,’ he said.

‘What’s more, it has been cynically timed to disrupt the start of the Commonwealth Games and crucial Euro 2022 semi-finals, in a deliberate bid to impact the travel of thousands trying to attend events the whole country is looking forward to.’

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch joins the picket line at London Euston railway station this morning

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch joins the picket line at London Euston railway station this morning 

Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Shapps dubbed the strikes an example of ‘union collusion’, adding he would seek to ban ‘strikes by different unions in the same workplace within a set period’.

He said he would also look at implementing a 60-day cooling-off period after each strike, as well as ensuring critical industries like rail maintain minimum service levels.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: ‘Despite our best efforts to find a breakthrough, I’m afraid there will be more disruption for passengers this week as the RMT seems hell-bent on continuing their political campaigning, rather than compromising and agreeing a deal for their members.

‘I can only apologise for the impact this pointless strike will have on passengers, especially those travelling for holidays or attending events such as the Uefa Women’s Euro 2022 semi-final (on Wednesday) and the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games (on Thursday).’

Members of the RMT and TSSA will launch co-ordinated strikes on August 18 and 20, while the RMT announced a strike on London Underground on August 19.

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