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What is the rail dispute all about and when will the next strikes be?

Simon Calder’s Travel

Nine out of 10 of the train drivers balloted for continued industrial action over the next six months have voted to strike.

They are members of the Aslef union, which is involved in a 19-month-long campaign of industrial action in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

Aslef says its members on Chiltern, C2C, East Midlands Railway, Northern and TransPennine Express overwhelmingly backed continuing with walk-outs, which began in July 2022.

Unions involved in disputes must reballot members every six months on continuing with industrial action.

The employers are the 14 train operators in England whose operations are controlled by the government and who belong to the Rail Delivery Group.

Last April, rail firms and ministers made what they say is a fair pay offer for 2022 and 2023, subject to train drivers accepting radical reforms of how they work.

It would take the average salary of a train driver for a four-day, 35-hour week from £60,000 to £65,000.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, says the ballot results represent clear rejection of that with-strings pay deal.

But the union boss is also offering an olive branch of sorts to ministers and the employers, saying: “We remain open and willing, as ever, to talk about a revised offer.”

Could a settlement be agreed – and can passengers plan journeys with any certainty? These are the key questions and answers.

Which rail firms are involved?

Aslef is in dispute with the train operators that are contracted by the government to provide rail services. In addition to the five train operators where drivers have just voted for more strikes (above), the companies are:

  • Intercity operators: Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Great Western Railway and LNER.
  • Southeast England and Midlands commuter operators: Greater Anglia, GTR (Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink), Southeastern, South Western Railway and West Midlands Railway (including London Northwestern Railway).

Is this just about money?

No. Were the dispute simply a question of the percentage pay increase train drivers should get, it would probably have been settled months ago – or never reached the stage of industrial action.

But with the annual public subsidy running at around £2 billion more than normal due to the collapse in fare revenue since the pandemic, the government aims to achieve wide-ranging reforms across…

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