Thousands of trains will be cancelled and millions of rail passengers hit by disruption in the next round of rail strikes in the ongoing, long and bitter dispute.
Train drivers belonging to the Aslef union will walk out on Saturday 30 September and Wednesday 4 October. In addition, the union has announced an overtime ban on Friday 29 September and from Monday 2 to Friday 6 October – disrupting rail travel for over a week.
The industrial action will hit the 14 English train operators that are contracted by the government to provide services. They include the key long-distance and commuter operators.
Transport for Wales and ScotRail are unaffected.
The strikes are timed to hit the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, which begins on Sunday 1 October – the day after the first walk-out – and ends on Wednesday 4 October, the day of the second stoppage.
Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, said: “While we regret having to take this action – we don’t want to lose a day’s pay, or disrupt passengers, as they try to travel by train – the government, and the employers, have forced us into this position.”
On Twitter/X, transport secretary Mark Harper wrote: “Aslef’s cynical strikes on 30 September and 4 October are politically motivated. Train drivers are paid an average of £60k for a 35-hour, four-day week.
“There’s an offer on the table to take that up to £65k – and still they strike, putting their own jobs at risk.”
Mr Whelan said: “Our members have not, now, had a pay rise for four years – since 2019 – and that’s not right when prices have soared in that time. Train drivers, perfectly reasonably, want to be able to buy now what they could buy four years ago.
“We last saw the secretary of state for transport in December. We last saw Huw Merriman, the rail minister, in January. And we last saw the train companies in April. Since then, nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a letter, not an email, not a text message, not a phone call, not a WhatsApp. Not a word!
“So where is Mark Harper? He holds the purse strings. The train companies have told us. They say they cannot act without his say-so. He’s the puppet master controlling the companies. But he’s hiding. What’s the man afraid of? We think it’s time Harper stepped up to the mark.”
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, said: “Further strike action by the Aslef leadership will cause more disruption to passengers.
“We want to give our staff a pay increase, but it has always been linked to implementing necessary, sensible reforms that would enhance services for our passengers.
“The union have rejected a fair and affordable offer without putting it to their members, which would take average driver base salaries for a four-day week without overtime from £60,000 to nearly £65,000.
“We ask the Aslef leadership and executive to recognise the very real financial challenge the industry is facing and work with us to deliver a more reliable and robust railway for the future.”
Although the union claims “the strike will force the train operating companies to cancel all services”, it is likely that a skeleton service will operate on some key intercity and commuter lines.
Besides the two strike days, train drivers will refuse overtime on five additional days.
Aslef said: “The ban on overtime will seriously disrupt the network as the privatised train companies have always failed to employ enough drivers to provide a proper service – the service they promise passengers, businesses, and the government they will deliver – without asking drivers to work their rest days.”
Twin disputes involving Aslef and the main rail union, the RMT, began in the summer of 2022 and have been disrupting train travel ever since. They centre on a demand from train operators – backed by ministers – that any pay rise must be accompanied by changes to working arrangements.