Train drivers took part in a fresh round of strikes on Wednesday, heaping further misery onto weary rail commuters, as commuters brace for another strike on Friday February 3.
Those that braved their commutes had to contend with zero trains running across 15 operators as well as the closure of major train stations in London including Victoria, Cannon Street, Marylebone and London Bridge.
“We know there will be significant disruption given the scale of strike action,” Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters in London on Tuesday. “That will be very difficult for the public trying to go about their daily lives.”
Drivers from dedicated union Aslef and wider rail union RMT will strike again on Feb 3 as a long-running industrial dispute lingers on.
The walkouts are the latest this year after rail workers launched industrial action during the first week of January – delaying the return to the office for many until Jan 9. The RMT staged two 48-hour walkouts sandwiching a single day of strike action by Aslef. It meant rail services were brought to a standstill from Tuesday Jan 3 to Saturday Jan 7.
When are the next train strikes?
Both Aslef and the RMT will strike on Friday, Feb 3 after their latest round of action on Wednesday, Feb 1. Around 12,500 Aslef members are walking out alongside roughly 250 drivers from the RMT.
Train drivers were joined by thousands of workers from other unions on Wednesday February 1, in the biggest day of industrial action in over a decade, according to the TUC.
Will services on the following days be affected?
Yes. This is because strike days often leave locomotives and their carriages stranded at the wrong depots and will need to be moved the following morning before being ready to operate passenger services.
How many trains will run?
Commuters were left stranded by 15 train operators running zero trains on Wednesday – and will be again on Friday.
The companies running no trains are:
Avanti West Coast
East Midlands Railway
London Northwestern Railway
West Midlands Railway
The following train companies are running an amended service on the strike days: Greater Anglia & Stansted Express; Great Western Railway; and LNER.
Who is to blame for the dispute?
Unsurprisingly, both sides - unions on one; Network Rail, train operators and the Government on the other - are blaming each other.
Rail unions say that their members have been denied pay rises for the last three years. Combined with soaring inflation, it means many workers are effectively taking a real-terms pay cut - i.e. because prices are rising so quickly, static wages are effectively worth less.
However, union chiefs conveniently ignore that none of the rail sector was put on furlough during the pandemic - this despite significantly fewer services being run. Had they been moved on the Government's furlough initiative, rail staff would have suffered an effective 20pc pay cut under the terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Neither has the Government covered itself in glory, however.
Network Rail, which owns tracks, stations and signals, and train operators have been effectively nationalised. This means any pay rise above the public sector norm of 2pc has to be signed off by Westminster - and politicians want the companies to justify any increases by identifying cost savings to cushion the impact on the Exchequer.
Although the RMT has rebuffed a series of pay offers from Network Rail, train operators were not given licence to offer any more than 2pc until last month - and only then with a government condition that all on-board guards would be cut.
Such a condition is a "red line" for both the RMT and Aslef, who claim it was inserted to doom the pay deal to failure.
Last month, the condition axing on-board guards was removed as part of a revised deal that is being considered by RMT leaders. A "best and final" offer made on behalf of the government by train operators offered workers a 9pc pay rise - 5pc backdated for 2022 and 4pc in 2023.
The union's national executive committee has now decided to consult its branches on next steps and is expected to make a further announcement on whether to put it to a ballot of members in the first few days of February.
So when will this end?
Speculation persists that final decisions were delayed until after Feb 1, when 500,000 workers across multiple industries walked out.
Talks between the RMT and Network Rail have been continuing with the union demanding a series of clarifications on the minutiae of changes to working agreements, sources say.
The decision to backtrack on a condition to axe on-board guards could be a dealmaker for the RMT and ultimately Aslef in its dispute with train operators.
It's a similar situation on Network Rail, where slightly sweetened terms could be enough to break the deadlock.
Mick Lynch from the RMT is under growing pressure from his members to come to an agreement. They have lost 18 days worth of pay since the start of the spat - as well as missing on a lump sum payout relating to 2022 and an increase this year.
For Mick Whelan at Aslef, it is a different sort of pressure. The drivers union is seen as less militant - but will still stick by his demands for wage increases near or even at inflation rates.
Fears within Aslef also persist that the union is being kept at arm's length while train operators strike a deal with the RMT. It would be an outlandish move, but the concern is that the government and train operators will agree to on-board guards with the RMT before offering Aslef a significantly higher pay increase in return for a condition that sees guards scrapped under their agreement - thereby undermining any commitments to the RMT in the process.