The websites of National Rail, TfL and Chiltern Railways have all crashed today as desperate commuters try to get to the office on the first day of Mick Lynch’s crippling rail strikes.
Passengers attempting to use all three websites to find out what trains are running during the rail strike are currently being shown a message stating: ‘500 Internal Server Error’.
Union barons have forced towns and cities across Britain into ‘another lockdown’, costing hospitality firms alone over £1billion this week as Britain’s railways come to a grinding halt today after last-ditch talks to avert the biggest strikes for 30 years failed.
Usually busy stations such as London Euston are nearly deserted except for picket lines by union members early today, with the start of services delayed until 7.30am. Only a fifth of trains are running, half of lines are closed, and the network will be shut down at 6.30pm.
London Underground services are also suspended on the vast majority of lines today due to a walk out by workers.
The websites of National Rail, TfL and Chiltern Railways have all crashed today
Camden Town Tube station is closed this morning as thousands of rail workers strike
Commuters vented that ‘even the websites are on strike’ on Twitter this morning
Passengers at a deserted Euston station in London this morning
Commuters queueing for buses outside Victoria Station in London amid today’s strikes
At Birmingham New Street station, a few would-be passengers and commuters were trying to work out their travel plans, gazing at timetables on their phones and the departures board on the main concourse.
Last-ditch talks failed to resolve the bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions, with all sides blaming each other for the lack of progress.
The militant RMT union was accused of ‘punishing millions of innocent people’ by pressing ahead with the walkouts despite a pay increase offer for workers of at least 3 per cent – the same given last year to NHS staff who battled the Covid-19 crisis.
The rail industry itself will also take a £150million hit at a time when pre-pandemic passenger numbers are yet to return.
There had been growing hope of a breakthrough in the row over jobs and pay yesterday after sources close to the negotiations said there was ‘some movement’ from the RMT and ‘small steps of progress’ were being made.
But it was dashed after the union’s boss, Lynch, confirmed walkouts today, on Thursday and Saturday will go ahead during a press conference outside the RMT’s headquarters in London yesterday.
Network Rail officially offered the RMT a two per cent pay rise with ‘no strings attached’ and a further one per cent later in the year if certain efficiency targets were met.
It is understood the rise could have been as much as 5 per cent if the union was willing to accept further modernisation of working practices, such as technology being used more to detect potential faults on the network.
Intense negotiations continued last night, with a source suggesting a deal to avert Thursday’s and Saturday’s walkouts was still possible.
They said: ‘It ain’t over until the fat lady sings. They wouldn’t be coming back, especially at this 11th hour, if we weren’t getting closer, and we are getting closer – it’s just not enough on either side yet to have a good enough package to avert the strikes at this point.’
The RMT is understood to want a pay increase of at least 7 per cent. It also wants a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.
Last night Mr Lynch did not rule out strikes going on for longer than the infamous Southern rail dispute, which lasted 18 months. It raises the prospect of similar walkouts going on for months.
He said: ‘It will go on until somebody offers us a deal that we can accept and we can put to our members and they vote for it in a referendum.’
He dodged the question of whether it was fair for taxpayers to stump up the extra cash to fund the union’s pay demands.
He added: ‘Faced with such an aggressive agenda of cuts to jobs, conditions, pay and pensions, the RMT has no choice but to defend our members industrially to stop this race to the bottom.
‘The strikes on Network Rail, the train operators and London Underground will go ahead, and we again call on our members to stand firm, support the action, mount the pickets and demonstrate their willingness to fight for workplace justice.’
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps hit back, saying: ‘By carrying out this action, the RMT is punishing millions of innocent people, instead of calmly discussing the sensible and necessary reforms we need to make in order to protect our rail network.’
He added: ‘We are now on the cusp of major disruption which will cause misery for people right across the country.
‘Many people who do not get paid if they can’t get to work face losing money at a time they simply can’t afford to. Children sitting exams will face the extra distraction of changing their travel plans.
‘And vulnerable people trying to attend long-awaited hospital appointments may have no choice but to cancel.’
Ministers want the industry to make around £2billion in savings after bailing out the industry to the tune of £16billion during the pandemic – the equivalent of £600 per household.
They also point out that the median salary for rail workers is already £44,000, above the national average.
Business chiefs said the strikes ‘could not come at a worse time’ for firms hoping for a summer bounce following the damage caused by Covid.
Ros Morgan, chief executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance, which represents over 600 businesses in the capital’s West End, said: ‘The rail and Tube strikes will impose another lockdown on the West End at a time when central London’s economy needs all the support it can get.’
Trade body UKHospitality warned the cost to the industry could top £1billion this week alone as pubs, bars, restaurants are hit along with other leisure and tourist activities such as theatres.
Its boss, Kate Nicholls, said: ‘For a devastated hospitality industry beginning its tentative post-pandemic recovery, the planned strike action couldn’t come at a worse time, and might deliver a fatal financial blow to those businesses already struggling to survive.’
The boss of the British Beer and Pub Association, Emma McClarkin, said the strikes pose a ‘serious threat’ to the industry and could stop staff getting to work and customers being able to get to venues.
Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, Sacha Lord, said the strikes will have a ‘drastic impact’ on businesses relying on footfall from local workplaces.
This is a breaking news story. More to follow