The head of the UK’s main train drivers’ union on Wednesday said his members were “in it for the long haul” as they held the first of two days of strike action this week likely to paralyse much of England’s mainline rail network.
Mick Whelan, of Aslef, was speaking as his members at 14 train operators refused to work on Wednesday. The action halted all trains on a number of operators, including Avanti West Coast, the passenger operator on the London to Glasgow West Coast main line, and on Govia Thameslink, operator of the Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services.
Other affected operators — including the LNER operation on the East Coast main line and Great Western Railway — were running significantly reduced services. South Western Railway is the only passenger operator holding a franchise from the Department for Transport which was largely unaffected.
Drivers will strike again on Saturday, when the stoppage will disrupt trips to the FA Cup final in London between Manchester City and Manchester United. A separate union, the RMT, representing other rail workers including train managers and station staff, will strike on Friday, in a stoppage expected to cause fewer cancellations.
Whelan told the BBC his union had so far made “zero” progress in talks with the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, or the Department for Transport on resolving the pay dispute. Aslef is demanding a significantly higher pay deal than the offer of 4 per cent for the 2022-23 financial year and a further 4 per cent for 2023-24 that employers have put forward. Drivers would receive any agreed pay rise for 2022 as a lump sum.
Whelan insisted there was “no waning in enthusiasm” from his members for the action.
“We are determined to get a resolution and remain in this for the long haul,” Whelan said.
Whelan has said Aslef members have had no pay rise since 2019 and that the government, which controls rail industry finances, is preventing a deal.
The RDG acknowledged that the strikes would cause “disappointment and frustration” for tens of thousands of people. The group has forecast that 40 per cent of train services will be able to run on days of Aslef strikes and 50 per cent during Friday’s RMT strike.
“We understand the impact of these strikes on individuals and businesses alike, and we can only apologise for this unnecessary and damaging disruption,” the RDG said.
The DfT said union leaders had co-ordinated the strikes to disrupt passengers in a period that would cover not only the FA Cup final but also the Derby horse race at Epsom, which is also on Saturday.
“The government has facilitated a fair and reasonable pay offer,” the DfT said. “Now union leaders must do the right thing and put this to their members.”