UK rail strike fallout 'delays progress' on environmentally friendly travel

UK travellers will endure the fourth of five successive strike days on Friday

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Repercussions from the six-month stalemate between rail workers and the UK government will delay progress on environmentally friendly travel, a union leader has said.

On Friday, UK travellers will endure the fourth of five successive strike days — the latest in a series of walkouts — that have crippled the network.

Two major rail unions are in disputes over pay, leaving few if any trains running on strike days. Travellers have had train services cut by up to 80 per cent.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union resumes its industrial action on Friday with a two-day strike. On Thursday, it was the train drivers from the Aslef union who walked out.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said the deadlock over pay negotiations was also taking the focus away from improving the network’s sustainability.

Mr Whelan said a lack of investment in railways and increased train fares have caused commuters to opt for less eco-friendly modes of transport, such as driving.

He said he “couldn't see how” ministers would be able to deliver climate change targets without “putting rail at the centre” of their policies.

Aslef general gecretary Mick Whelan, right, on a picket line at Euston station in London. PA

“Electrification, decarbonisation, building your transport links to the future, building freight hubs, shorter electric lorry journeys that protected jobs and enhanced communities going forward, would have been where we would be,” he said.

“What we're actually seeing is less investment, truncated timetables driving people back on to roads and, of course, at the same time, it isn't strikes that are driving people off the railway, it is the increased fares.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Unions should step back from strike action so we can start 2023 by ending this damaging dispute."

Another arm of the government has announced it is pushing ahead with plans to introduce new legislation for “minimum safety levels” during industrial action.

The Business Department announced that a bill will be introduced in Parliament in the coming weeks to ensure vital public services maintain a “basic function” when workers go on strike.

“We hugely value the work of our public services and we're reaching out to unions to have an honest conversation on pay, conditions and reform,” Business Secretary Grant Shapps said.

“Industrial action is disruptive for everyone — from people relying on essential services to get to work or care for their family, to hard-working business owners whose sales suffer.

"It also costs those striking at a time when family budgets are tight.

“As well as protecting the freedom to strike, the Government must also protect life and livelihoods.

"While we hope that voluntary agreements can continue to be made in most cases, introducing minimum safety levels — the minimum levels of service we expect to be provided — will restore the balance between those seeking to strike and protecting the public from disproportionate disruption.”

Minimum safety levels will be set for fire, ambulance and rail services, the government said.

Updated: January 06, 2023, 5:05 AM