RMT rallies outside Newcastle Central Station amid travel chaos

Members of the RMT Union have gathered outside Newcastle Central Station as the biggest strikes for 30 years begin.

Eighty per cent of train services nationally closed on the first day of this week's planned walkouts.

Rail passengers in the North East are experiencing severe disruption to their journeys.

Northern, which runs the vast majority of commuter services in the region, has cancelled virtually all its routes.

While organisers said they "sympathise" with the public, they argue the strikes are necessary and may last for months if the Government does not meet its demands.

"My sympathy goes out to the travelling public but what I won’t do […] is apologise for defending the members’ interests," said North East regional organiser Micky Thompson.

"This is not for the want of trying to avert the strike action.

"But unfortunately, the Government [...] is intransigent in its position and those talks have broken down."

Boris Johnson has urged commuters to "stay the course" on rail strikes, appearing to be suggesting to his ministers at Cabinet that Britons must endure these strikes and perhaps others in order to beat the union and reform the railways.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps blamed the RMT union, which he described as "hard-left" for the talks breaking down, urging workers to return to their posts.

"This is hugely disruptive, very worrying for people," he told ITV News.

"There is a pay offer on the table. The unions know that what’s needed in return is reform of our railways, which operate under rules put in place in the 1950s and 1960s.

"We need to modernise it and we need to get this fixed but it takes two to tango."