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Trains cancelled amid strike threat

Train companies have started cancelling services ahead of planned strikes Photo: ITV Meridian

Train companies have started cancelling services over the Bank Holiday because of a planned strike by thousands of Network Rail workers in a row over pay, even though peace talks are continuing.

West Coast main line operator Virgin Trains scrapped all services on Monday and Tuesday and warned it would only be able to run a very limited number of trains on its East Coast line over the two days.

An outline of how the strike will affect all train companies is expected today, but passengers were warned to expect severe disruption if the 24 walkout goes ahead from 5pm on Monday. Talks to avoid the strike were adjourned last night and are due to resume at 9am today.

Chiltern Railways and First Great Western were among those giving passengers an early idea of the travel chaos they can expect.

Passengers were being advised not to travel unless "absolutely necessary", with widespread cancellations expected, leading to packed trains. A legal challenge by NR against the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) ballot is listed this afternoon in the High Court.

NR also urged train passengers to be prepared for the strike, saying it could not bank on unions calling off the planned stoppage. The two sides were continuing to hold talks at the conciliation service Acas, and NR said its negotiators will be available into the weekend if necessary to try to head off a strike.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union and the TSSA have rejected a four-year pay deal of £500 followed by three years of rises in line with RPI inflation.

Train operators are working with NR on contingency plans, which will be "fine-tuned" over the next few days.

"We are continuing to talk with the unions and we believe there is a settlement to be had. I sincerely hope we can reach one and my team will be available all week, and into the weekend if necessary, to find a deal to prevent strike action. From the very start of negotiations we made clear that we want to reward our staff for the incredible job they do, but that any pay rise needs to be linked to smarter, more effective ways of working. We can't bank on the unions calling off the strike, so we are now concluding our contingency plans so passengers can make decisions about their journeys. If the strike goes ahead, it's important that people check before travelling and are aware of the special measures put in place by train operators for people who have already booked tickets."

– Chief executive of Network Rail Mark Carne

"RMT is continuing to push for a negotiated settlement through the Acas talks and the union is available right the way through the weekend to keep that process going, if necessary. In the meantime, our picketing arrangements are in place and the response coming back from our members is one of rock-solid support. We would remind the public that we have been forced into this dispute through a wholly-unwarranted attack on safety-critical jobs, pay and working conditions that would seriously undermine the safety of passengers on our railways into the future. RMT members are standing up for the principle of a properly staffed and resourced railway where safety comes first and where corners aren't cut to hit budget targets."

– RMT general secretary Mick Cash