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Britain faces the worst rail chaos in months of strikes this weekend as the sector’s three main unions walk out on the same day for the first time, disrupting travel to events including the Conservative Party conference and London Marathon.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association and drivers union Aslef will all stage industrial action Saturday as they press for a pay deal matching inflation and guarantees of job security amid a drop in rail travel following the coronavirus pandemic.
Nationwide walkouts will affect track and station manager Network Rail Ltd. and 14 train operators including Avanti West Coast and LNER, which run the country’s two busiest intercity arteries. The London Overground network will also be affected, together with the new Elizabeth line that crosses the capital.
Close to 90% of usual services will be scrapped under an emergency timetable, Network Rail said in an advisory notice, and there’ll be no trains at all across swathes of the country. Those that run will start later and finish far earlier than normal, so rail travel should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
“Given that this is the first time the RMT, Aslef and TSSA have walked out on the same day, services will be even more significantly disrupted,” it said.
Britain’s ruling Conservatives will hold their annual conference from Sunday in Birmingham, central England, with delegates and attendees traveling from across the country. Two of the unions also plan walkouts on Oct. 5, when people will be making their way home from the event.
Organizers of Sunday’s London Marathon, which draws around 50,000 runners from Britain and around the world, warned competitors that there’ll be a “very limited service across the rail network” Saturday, and that collecting participation packs might prove difficult.
On race day, Network Rail and local operator Southeastern have promised special efforts to ensure trains from central London to the marathon’s start line resume running around 7 a.m. following the shutdown, though services across the rest of the network are likely to be much slower to recover.
The walkouts will also impact Premier League football fixtures resuming after a two-week break, with many fans likely to be forced to travel by road or miss games. Clubs whose supporters face potentially tortuous journeys include Newcastle United in the northeast, away to Fulham in London, and Brighton & Hove Albion on the south coast, traveling to Liverpool.
Britain’s wave of strikes is just one of the battlegrounds facing Prime Minister Liz Truss’s government as it grapples with unprecedented market turmoil just three weeks after entering office, following the announcement of unfunded tax cuts.
The RMT said last week that the change of government could help unions reach a deal as new Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan engages more directly in the dispute after her predecessor said the matter was solely one for the companies involved. Still, recent events may see transport slide down the political agenda.
Union-led group Enough is Enough, campaigning for pay hikes in line with inflation and action on living costs, plans to stage a national day of action Saturday, with demonstrations in more than 50 locations.
Postal workers are also striking Friday and Saturday in another dispute that involves pay, conditions and future employment. Like the rail network, Royal Mail Plc is seeking to change its business strategy to address changes wrought by the pandemic, restructuring deliveries as increasing numbers of people order goods online for next day delivery.
The Communication Workers Union which represents 115,000 postal workers plans a further 19 days of walkouts through October and November, encompassing a key period for Christmas shopping.
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