Travelers trying to reach the Eurovision Song Contest and the FA Cup Final by rail could find their trains canceled by a series of strikes. The main rail union, the RMT, and the train drivers’ union, Aslef, have called more walk-outs in May and June. Staff will stop work at more than a dozen train operators, including all the key long-distance and commuter rail firms.
Drivers working for over a dozen train operators will walk out on Friday 12 May, Wednesday 31 May and Saturday 3 June. An overtime ban will also be put in place.
The RMT has called a strike by members working at 14 train operators on Saturday 13 May.
The walk-outs will hit passengers hoping to reach Liverpool for the climax of the Eurovision Song Contest; the final takes place on Saturday 13 May. Avanti West Coast, TransPennine Express and Northern are among the train operators that will be affected.
The 3 June date coincides with the FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Manchester City, which will be staged at Wembley in northwest London. Normally tens of thousands of fans would be traveling by rail to the match. It will also affect racegoers traveling to Epsom Derby.
Since June 2022, national rail strikes in a tangle of disputes about pay, job security and working arrangements have caused problems for tens of millions of train passengers. Stoppages have been called frequently, causing massive disruption and making advance travel planning difficult.
The main rail union, the RMThas staged walk-outs on 24 days in the current wave of strikes, with Aslef stopping work on eight previous occasions.
These are the key questions and answers.
Who is striking and when?
Aslef has instructed all its train driver members working for 16 train operators to strike on Friday 12 May, Wednesday 31 May and Saturday 3 June.
The train firms are those contracted by the Department for Transport. They include the leading intercity operators:
- Avanti West Coast
- Cross country
- East Midlands Railway
- Great Western Railway
- Trans Pennine Express
The vast majority of London commuter operators will also be hit:
- Greater Anglia
- GTR (Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink)
- South Western Railway
Operators focusing on the Midlands and north of England will be affected:
- Chiltern Railways
- Northern Trains
- West Midlands Trains
There will also be a ban on “non-contractual overtime” – on Saturday 13 May, from Monday 15 to Saturday 20 May inclusive, and on Thursday 1 June.
The RMT union has called its members out on strike on Saturday 13 May. The same train operators will be involved – with the addition of c2c, which runs from the City of London to south Essex.
What will the effect be?
On many of the previous strikes by the RMT, signaling staff working for Network Rail have walked out and shut down at least half of the rail system.
They have now settled, so the network’s infrastructure should be open as normal.
Even so, on each of the strike days, thousands of trains will be cancelled, wrecking travel plans for millions of passengers.
The impact of the drivers’ and RMT walk-outs will be different.
During previous drivers’ strikes, some operators – Avanti West Coast and Southeastern, for example – have canceled all trains.
Others have run a skeleton service on core routes. On GWR, for example, travelers can expect a basic service from London Paddington to and from Bristol Temple Meads and Cardiff Central.
The RMT walk-out is expected to have less of an impact. GWR will probably run a more extensive timetable, including to and from Exeter and Plymouth.
Avanti West Coast will run a basic service, with one train an hour from each of Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow to London Euston.
LNER is likely to aim to run as many as 40 per cent of normal services on the East Coast main line, concentrating on the London King’s Cross-York-Newcastle-Edinburgh spine.
On all the strike dates, the vast majority of services in Scotland and Wales will operate normally as ScotRail and Transport for Wales are not involved in the dispute with Aslef.
Trains run by these companies are likely to be more crowded than normal on routes usually shared with train operators whose staff are striking, such as London-York-Newcastle-Edinburgh and Swansea-Cardiff-Newport.
Passengers can also expect normal service on:
- Caledonian Sleeper
- Grand Central
- Heathrow Express
- Hull Trains
- London Overground
The last of these, Merseyrail, will be running extra trains over the Eurovision weekend – though the network is limited to the Liverpool region as far as Southport and Ormskirk plus the Wirral and Chester.
The drivers’ overtime ban is likely to particularly affect long-distance train operators such as Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express.
In addition, some evening services before the strikes and early morning trains after the walk-outs will be cancelled.
Will Eurostar be affected?
No, but connections to and from the train operator’s main hub at London St Pancras International will be difficult because union members working for all three domestic train operators (East Midlands Railway, Southeastern and Thameslink) serving the station will walk out.
Why is Aslef taking industrial action?
Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, said: “We do not want to go on strike. We do not want to inconvenience passengers, we have families and friends who use the railway, too, and we believe in investing in rail for the future of this country.
“But the blame for this action lies, fairly and squarely, at the feet of the employers who have forced our hand over this by their intransigence.
“The proposal – of just 4 per cent – was clearly not designed to be accepted as inflation is still running north of 10 per cent and our members at these companies have not had an increase for four years.”
Mr Whelan said the companies involved are “letting down passengers, and taxpayers,” and that “proposals to modernize Britain’s railways and help them run more efficiently” had been rejected.
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: “This is disappointing news for our customers and staff, more strike action is totally unnecessary and will only heap more pressure on an industry already facing an acute financial crisis.
“Senselessly targeting both the final of Eurovision and the FA Cup final is disappointing for all those planning to attend.
“After many weeks of negotiations with the Aslef leadership, we made a revised and fair offer including a pay rise of 8 per cent over two years. It would have introduced overdue, common-sense improvements already in place in parts of the network, which would see more trains running on time for passengers. Sadly, this has been rejected.”
Why is the RMT striking?
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing train operators, has made proposals on pay that the unions say they cannot accept.
Earlier this month the RMT said it was considering an improved offer from the train operators. But the rail union says the first-year payment of 5 per cent now appears contingent on the RMT’s industrial mandate being terminated.
The RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The RDG have reneged on their original proposals and torpedoed these negotiations.
“No doubt their decision is due to pressure exerted on them by the Tory government.
”Therefore, we have no alternative but to press ahead with more strike action and continue our campaign for a negotiated settlement on pay, conditions and job security.”
Steve Montgomery, chair of the Rail Delivery Group, rejected the that the goalposts have moved. He said: “Nothing has changed in the offer agreed two weeks ago by the RMT leadership in the negotiating room.
“The RMT are negotiating in bad faith, denying their members a say on a fair pay deal, needlessly disrupting the lives of millions of our passengers, and undermining the viability of an industry critical to Britain’s economy.”
The main rail union is currently re-balloting its members on the 14 train operating companies with a result expected on 4 May. If the RMT beats all the legal thresholds for turnout and achieves a “yes” vote, it will have a further six-month strike mandate.
What does the government say?
Ministers will sign off the final settlement, which will largely be paid for by taxpayers.
The transport secretary, Mark Harper, said: “Passengers have been forced to endure the RMT’s strike action for almost a year, yet the RMT executive is intent on continuing to force its members to lose even more pay.
“That’s despite having a best and final offer, similar to the pay offer their Network Rail members recently voted to overwhelmingly accept.
“By yet again denying their members a chance to have a say, and then striking over the UK’s first Eurovision event in 25 years – hosted for Ukraine – the RMT are simply further snubbing the very passengers they serve.”
Could the strikes be called off?
It seems most unlikely that the first pair – Aslef on 12 May, RMT on 13 May – will be cancelled. All parties will be watching intently to see how effective the walk-outs prove to be.
The government and the train operators appear to be pinning hopes on an erosion of support for striking by union members. If more than half the scheduled trains can be run,
Conversely, the unions believe that support for the strikes remains strong, and that eventually ministers will cave in and agree to unconditional pay rises.
I have a ticket booked for one of the strike days. What can I do?
Passengers with Advance, Anytime or Off-Peak tickets can have their ticket refunded with no fee if the train that the ticket is booked for is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled.
Train operators are likely to offer flexibility to travel on a wide range of non-strike days.
Passengers with season tickets who do not travel can claim compensation for the strike dates through Delay Repay.
What are the alternatives?
As always, long-distance coach operators – National Express, Megabus and Flixbus – will keep running, though seats are becoming scarce and fares are rising.
Traveling from London to Liverpool over the Eurovision weekend, Megabus has some seats at below £40 return.
On FA Cup Final day, National Express has return tickets from Manchester to London for under £40.