Rail strikes: When is the mass walkout by train staff and could you get your money back?

Around 80% of rail services in Britain could be running reduced services or, worse, be cancelled. Credit: PA

Rail workers have kicked off the biggest strike in a generation, which has caused widespread travel chaos in Britain.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) walked out on the first of three separate days on Tuesday in a row over pay, meaning millions who rely on trains to get around have to make alternative arrangements.

Here's what you need to know about when the strikes will take place and what you could do about claiming compensation.

When are the strikes?

Members of the RMT at Network Rail and 13 train operators walked out on Tuesday, June 21, and will, as it stands, walk out on Thursday, June 23 and Saturday, June 25.

Unite and RMT also announced another 24-hour strike on London Underground in a separate row over jobs and pensions.

Unite members who work for other branches of Transport for London (TfL) also walked out on Tuesday.

TfL “strongly encouraged” people not to travel on London Underground on June 21 because of a 24-hour walkout by the RMT and Unite.

The Tube will run on Wednesday, though disruption will likely continue early in the morning.

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The union said more than 50,000 railway workers walked out on June 21, adding that the action will affect the national railway network for the entire week.

Disruption can therefore be expected on June 22, 24 and 26, when there are no strikes planned as trains will not be in the correct positions due to the action taken on the days before.

Trains will start later and finish much earlier than usual, between 7.30am and 6.30pm, but passengers have been told to only travel if necessary and plan ahead.

Many stations will not see any trains stop at them on strike days.

Train operators will publish updated timetables, but here are some examples of last trains from London on strike days:

  • To Edinburgh: 2pm

  • To Leeds: 3.05pm

  • To Birmingham: 3.43pm

  • To Cardiff: 4.27pm

  • To Brighton: 5.50pm

Which trains will be affected?

The rail operators involved are:

  • Chiltern Railways

  • Cross Country Trains

  • Greater Anglia

  • LNER

  • East Midlands Railway

  • c2c

  • Great Western Railway

  • Northern Trains

  • Southeastern

  • South Western Railway

  • Transpennine Express

  • Avanti West Coast

  • West Midlands Trains

It all adds up to around 80% of Britain’s rail services either cancelled or running reduced services.

Even operators not taking part in the strikes will be affected - that’s because staff like signallers and station managers are part of Network Rail and will be involved in the walkout.

What rights do I have with my employer if I'm unable to make it back in time for work?

If an employee cannot get to work or is going to arrive late because of bad weather or transport problems, employment advisory body ACAS advises that they should tell their employer as soon as possible.

"Employees don’t have a legal right to be paid for working time they’ve missed due to travel disruption," Gary Wedderburn, Senior Advisor at ACAS explained.

"It is a good idea for employers and employees to discuss and agree how any missing time will be treated.

For example, taking extra days as holiday, unpaid leave or paid special leave.

He added: “Different workplaces will have different policies, so it is always a good idea to check at the earliest opportunity.”

Are there any major events going on at that time?

Around five million people use rail services every day in Britain and the strikes are timed to coincide with big events - meaning even more people will be disrupted.

Glastonbury starts on June 22 and runs until June 26, with many festival-goers planning to travel to the site by train.

Anyone planning on a trip to Glastonbury may need to consider alternative arrangements for travel. Credit: PA

Other events that week include England playing New Zealand in a test cricket match in Leeds, the British athletics championships in Manchester, and gigs in London’s Hyde Park by Elton John (June 24) and the Rolling Stones (June 25).

There will also be a Commonwealth Heads of government meeting in London on June 24 to 25 and it is Armed Forces Day on June 25 which will see commemorative events take place across the country.

So can passengers claim compensation?

It can be complicated.

It’s best to check with specific operators and services to see if they are running an emergency timetable.

This is important as you can only claim compensation during a rail strike for a delay based on the replacement or emergency timetable for train or replacement bus services, according to consumer group, Which?

Even then, you could only be eligible for compensation once you’ve boarded an alternative service and it’s delayed.

But the length of the delay you have to endure before you get offered a payout can vary from company to company.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said season ticket holders would be paid “full compensation on strike days” next week, and he had “moved to help make that an automatic process”.

Compensation can be possible in certain circumstances. Credit: PA

What's happened during previous strikes?

There is precedent for a payout following strike action, however.

South Western Railway (SWR) said season ticket holders and daily ticket holders who travelled “frequently” during industrial action in December 2019 would be able to claim compensation equivalent to the cost of up to five days of travel.

Passengers suffered weeks of travel misery when members of the RMT union went on strike for 27 days during December in a row over the role of guards on trains.

Thousands of services were cancelled, including commuter trains to the UK’s busiest station London Waterloo.

Why is this happening?

Union members voted overwhelmingly for action last month in growing rows over pay and job losses.

The RMT said rail staff who worked through the Covid-19 pandemic were facing pay freezes and hundreds of job cuts.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said ahead of the strikes: “Railway workers have been treated appallingly and despite our best efforts in negotiations, the rail industry with the support of the government has failed to take their concerns seriously.

“We have a cost-of-living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze when inflation is... rising.

“Our union will now embark on a sustained campaign of industrial action which will shut down the railway system.

“Rail companies are making at least £500m a year in profits, whilst fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This unfairness is fuelling our members anger and their determination to win a fair settlement.

“RMT is open to meaningful negotiations with rail bosses and ministers, but they will need to come up with new proposals to prevent months of disruption on our railways.”

What is the government’s position in all this?

Mr Shapps said on the day the strike was announced: “It is incredibly disappointing the RMT have decided to take action that could drive passengers away from the rail network for good.

“The pandemic has changed travel habits – with 25% fewer ticket sales and the taxpayer stepping in to keep the railways running at a cost of £16 billion, equivalent to £600 per household. We must act now to put the industry on a sustainable footing.

“We once again want to urge the unions to come to talks with the rail industry so we can work together to build a better, more modern, passenger-focused railway.”

Mr Shapps later said that enabling the use of agency workers would be “very much quicker” than requiring minimum service levels. “If the strike drags on … then transferrable skills, sometimes called agency working, will be something which will become available as well in this particular dispute.”