The biggest national walkout of rail workers for more than 20 years is set to bring travel misery to Surrey next week. People are being urged to make other arrangements after the RMT union, which represents rail workers, announced 50,000 staff will walk out in a row over pay and working conditions.
Strikes are taking place next Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (June 21, 23, and 25) – although passengers can expect major disruption throughout the period from Tuesday to Sunday as the impact of each mass walkout spills over into the following day. Hours of operation are expected to be cut on the strike days, with many stations having no service at all.
GTR, which operates Southern routes in East Surrey, is the only rail company at which RMT members chose not to walk out – but its services are still affected as they rely on Network Rail signallers – who will be striking – to operate. Southern has not yet commented on the expected disruption.
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Details of emergency timetables had not been finalised, but SurreyLive understands all services to stations which are not on main lines into London could be axed on the strike days. Even on the lines which do run, trains are expected to only be out of their depots between 7am and 7pm and will run in hugely reduced numbers.
Rail companies have been in contact with places such as schools and hospitals to ensure staff and pupils consider alternative ways to travel. South Western Railway (SWR) has urged passengers to change their plans if they can. Some 2,100 staff from the rail operator are walking out over the three days.
Jeremy Varns, from passenger group SWR Watch, said the planned action was “highly disappointing”. “The railways are still recovering from lockdowns, changing work patterns and a corresponding drop in income,” he said. “The government and taxpayers have helped to protect jobs and services within the industry, but clearly, this cannot continue forever without reform and modernisation.
“We’re often told that strikes are a last resort, yet [RMT] General Secretary, Mick Lynch, appears to be relishing the chance to ‘shut down’ the network, seemingly indifferent to the impact this will have on passengers.”
SWR has echoed warnings that any routes which do run will have far fewer services than normal. Managing director, Claire Mann, said: “I understand the announcement of upcoming industrial action will worry many of our customers, particularly against the backdrop of significant cost of living pressures. We are carefully finalising contingency plans, but I’m afraid this action will mean that many customers will be unable to travel by rail.
“If customers can change their date of travel, or make alternative arrangements, I urge them to begin making those arrangements as soon as possible. I appreciate how challenging this may be and would like to thank customers for their patience as the rail industry responds to this unprecedented industrial action.”
Announcing the strike dates last week, Mr Lynch pointed to the lack of pay rises during the cost of living crisis as a key reason. He called on rail bosses and the government to bring new proposals, or face months of disruption. “Our union will now embark on a sustained campaign of industrial action which will shut down the railway system,” he said.
“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.”