Rush hour commuters in the UK faced chaos this morning as railway workers embarked on the network’s largest strike in more than three decades, with a cost-of-living crisis threatening wider hostilities.
Usually, busy stations like London Euston were almost deserted, except for the strike lines of trade unionists early today, with the start of services delayed until 07.30.
Only one-fifth of the trains run, half of the lines are closed and the network will be closed at 6.30 pm.
Large groups of people waited at bus stops on the outskirts of London shortly after 6am, but many gave up as services to the capital continued without stopping, already full.
The travel planning website National Rail Inquiries stopped working for about half an hour, but the cause of the problem is not believed to be related to the strike.
Britain’s Transport Minister Grant Shapps said ministers would change the law to minimize disruption from strikes by requiring a certain level of service to be operated and enabling the use of staff.
A large part of the UK will have no passenger trains on all day, including most of Scotland and Wales, all of Cornwall and Dorset, and places such as Chester, Hull, Lincoln and Worcester.
The last talks failed to resolve the bitter dispute over wages, jobs and conditions, with all sides blaming each other for the lack of progress.
About 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators have left.
Strikes are also planned for Thursday and Saturday.
The London Underground is also closed on most lines today due to workers leaving.
This week’s strikes will cause millions of travelers.
Students and parents are encouraged to make an alternative plan to get to school for A-level and GCSE exams.
Motorists were warned to expect an increase in traffic when train passengers switch to road transport.
AA predicted that the worst affected roads are likely to be the main roads, as well as rural and suburban areas.
About half of the Great Western Railways’ trains that will run at Castle Cary in Somerset, with partygoers to the Glastonbury Festival between tomorrow and Friday, have been canceled.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to say before a government meeting that the unions “harm the very people they claim to help”.
He will accuse unions of “driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of railway workers”, while cracking down on companies across the country.
He will say: “Too high wage demands will also make it incredibly difficult to put an end to the current challenges that families around the world face with rising living costs.
“Now is the time to come to a sensible compromise for the benefit of the British people and the railway workers.”
RMT Secretary General Mick Lynch said that Network Rail had offered a 2% pay rise with the possibility of a further 1% later due to efficiency savings.
He told BBC Newsnight that Network Rail had “escalated” the dispute during yesterday’s talks, saying: “They have issued me a letter stating that there will be redundancies from 1 July.
“So instead of trying to reach an agreement on this dispute, they have escalated it by giving us a formal notice of termination among our Network Rail members.”
He warned that the dispute could continue for months.
The strikes are exacerbating major travel chaos after airlines were forced to cancel flights due to staff shortages, causing long delays and frustration for passengers.
Thousands of workers were fired in the aviation industry during the pandemic, but the sector is now struggling to recruit workers as travel demand recovers after the deadlines were lifted.
Other parts of the public sector will go on strike.
The Criminal Bar Association, which represents senior lawyers in England and Wales, has voted to go on strike from next week in a row due to funding of legal aid.
Attorney General James Cartlidge called the strike “a disappointment” given that the judicial system is already battling significant delays in pandemic cases.
The four-week campaign begins on Monday and Tuesday and increases by one day each week until a five-day strike from 18 July.
Teachers and workers in the state national health care are also considering a strike.
And several other transport unions are voting out members over any stops that may occur in the coming weeks.
Additional reporting AFP
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